Cash bolsters plan for Hilton hotel on Joplings store site

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AMBITIOUS plans to turn Sunderland’s disused Joplings store into a hotel could become a reality with the scheme in line to share a £25million business loan fund.

The plan, to turn the building into a 119-bedroom Hampton by Hilton hotel, is part of the first wave of major regeneration projects considered for backing from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP)’s Growing Places Funds.

The Joplings scheme is one of seven which will go forward for further scrutiny, with those projects successfully completing the process receiving flexible loans, backed by Government cash.

Planning permission to transform the upper floors of the John Street building was granted in March 2009 but the plans have been on hold after the closure of the store more than a year ago.

Although concerns were raised over hotel parking and taxi access to the site, the plans were welcomed by councillors who recognised the need for more hotel accommodation in the city centre.

That need still exists and is only partially being addressed by the current construction of a new 82-room Travelodge next to the Riverside leisure quarter in High Street West.

If all seven of the projects go ahead, they will help to create and safeguard more than 23,000 jobs.

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The partnership’s Investment Panel examined 20 potential projects and has ear-marked the seven for the first round of help because of their economic impact, job creation potential, ability to provide a return on investment in a fairly short timescale, and their readiness to go.

NELEP Chairman Paul Woolston said: “This is great news for the North East. We worked hard to win one of the largest amounts of Growing Places funds awarded to a region – over £25million – to kick-start projects which have been slowed by the recession.

“We welcome the government’s investment in the Growing Places Fund and will work closely with them to achieve its objectives.

“This fund unlocks key developments which have the size, core strength and strategic locations to make a significant long-term impact on the North East economy.”

The next stage of the process is to examine each of the projects in depth and negotiate details to enable contracts to be confirmed by July, after which the LEP will decide how much each receives.

Investment panel chairman Jeremy Middleton said: “We’re preparing to give a massive cash boost to developments which require infrastructure to be put in place to move forward.

“We have identified seven excellent projects which each demonstrate a strong business plan, significant job creation and the ability to make a real difference to their area and the wider region. The next stage is critical to each of these projects.

“We will know within two months which projects will get going again with Growing Places funding.”