Axe falls on Sunderland city centre boss

Sunderland City Centre Manager Louise Hardy.
Sunderland City Centre Manager Louise Hardy.
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THE officer charged with championing Sunderland city centre has had her role axed.

Sunderland City Council is scrapping the post of city centre manager as part of a shake-up.

The post-holder, Louise Hardy, was due to leave at the end of March. The council has stressed it is the post that is being axed, not Ms Hardy, but has not said what she will do next.

The marketing specialist was appointed in 2007, and has organised a number of projects to help improve the fortunes of city centre trade.

Ms Hardy has also seen big announcements such as the £15million expansion to The Bridges, at the High Street West entrance.

The shopping centre also achieved record Christmas sales in 2010.

However, there has been frustration over lack of progress in the city centre.

Janet Snaith, head of city business and the investment team at the council, said a new retail specialist role would be appointed as part of city centre management changes.

“The city centre is a key priority for the council and, with the Vaux site now owed by the city and The Bridges expanding, there are further opportunities for securing more physical development and business investment.”

Ms Snaith said the council was strengthening its business investment team in light of the city’s Economic Master Plan, launched in October.

She said: “This is to give it a greater focus on developing and delivering the city’s key strategic economic priorities, including the city centre, providing more support to both new and existing businesses and promoting new employment sectors – such as low carbon and software.

“As part of these changes a retail specialist role is being created that will further develop the city centre.”

The Shop Sunderland First Campaign, the Sunderland Retail Awards and the Best Bar None awards recognising best practice in pubs, bars and clubs are among the projects Ms Hardy organised.

The council’s city centre website, profiling Ms Hardy and her role, credited her with “a passion for Sunderland”, “a solid background in marketing” and “has already proved that her skills make her the perfect choice to help shape Sunderland’s future”.

It states her task was working on the ground with companies to get the most out of Sunderland and at the same time “extolling the virtues” of the city centre to those outside the area “letting them know this is the place to invest”.

Councillor Alan Wright, Sunderland Conservatives’ spokesman on regeneration, said Ms Hardy’s work had made an impact but agreed it was time for a change in direction.

He said: “It was the right job for that time and it worked in a sense that the council, certainly over the last year, has developed a more focused view on the city centre and what it needs to do, but circumstances have changed.”

Coun Wright welcomed the move to bring in a specialist retail post more targeted at improving retail in the city centre. He thinks more routine janitorial, cleansing and other operations should be handled by other departments or bodies.

“If we want to bring more people into the city centre, we’ve got to bring in more shops,” he said.