SUNDERLAND city centre has been a victim of Wearside’s success in recovering from the loss of its traditional industries, says the city council’s top man.
Chief executive Dave Smith told a North East Chamber of Commerce meeting that the centre had been left behind in the drive to replace jobs lost with the closure of the region’s shipyards and coal mines.
The late 1980s and 90s had seen a determined effort to create new opportunities in the city’s burgeoning automotive, advanced manufacturing and call centre sectors.
“That strategy was immensely successful, so much so that by the by the mid 2000s, there were more people working in Sunderland than there had been in the coal mines and shipbuilding,” said Mr Smith.
But he told the Stadium of Light audience that success had come at a cost for the heart of the city, with new jobs concentrated out of town and pulling the industries that supported those jobs out of the city centre in their wake.
“That is why the city centre has the challenges it currently has. The city centre struggles because it just does not have the number of people living and working in the centre to drive the economy on,” he said.
He praised the hard-line stance council leaders had taken on the Vaux site, even though it had led to a lengthy stand-off with supermarket giant Tesco. The potential of the Vaux site meant it was simply too good an opportunity to waste.
“The council’s opposition to Tesco building a supermarket on the Vaux site had absolutely nothing to do with opposition to Tesco and everything to do with to do with the opportunity that would be lost to build a commercial and business development that would bring people, jobs and spending on a scale of Doxford Park into the city centre,” said Mr Smith.
“In my view, the council was absolutely right to hold that line.”
The challenge for the council now was to help the private sector to grow and flourish and bring jobs back into the city centre.
“The council will face up to its responsibilities, but we are clear what our role is,” said Mr Smith.
“Our role is not to take the place of the private sector, our role is not to seek to do everything.
“Our role is to seek to create the opportunity for private sector investment and private sector growth.”