THE number of businesses based at Sunderland’s Software City has increased by more than 10 – but a city Tory says more needs to be done to fill the flagship enterprise centre.
The £9million development, built on the site of the former Tavistock Car Park, was set up to capitalise on the growth of the software sector on Wearside and in the North East.
It was designed to house 60 hi-tech firms, but at the beginning of this year, it was home to just one company.
Through a Freedom of Information request, the Echo has discovered that 13 firms are now based there, including events organisation Sunderland Live Ltd, which has links to Sunderland City Council.
But Sunderland Conservative councillor Peter Wood does not think the centre can be hailed a success until there are more firms in place.
He said: “It is disappointing that only 20 per cent of the floor space of the Software Centre is currently being used and that this includes use by members of the city council’s Business Improvement Team and Sunderland Live, with its links to the council.
“The building and its facilities are both very impressive.”
He added: “It both deserves – and needs – to be fully occupied because it could be a real asset for the city.
“I understand it is hoped 40 per cent of the floor space will be occupied by the end of next year, but that it might not be until the end of 2016 before the whole building is occupied.”
Opened in 2012, the project was started through £1.4million from the Working Neighbourhood Fund, £4.5million from the European Regional Development Fund and £3.1million from now defunct regional development agency One NorthEast.
Coun Wood added: “The location proved contentious at the time it was built, being sited on the site of the popular Tavistock Place car park.
“More still needs to be done to improve parking in the area – for example, with the parking bays in Tavistock Place itself.”
Keith Wallace, whose firm TTMG Internet was one of the first to move into Software City, says the centre is now home to much more activity, and although progress hasn’t been as quick as hoped, the situation is improving.
He said: “I think people are doing all they can to make the place a success.
“There have been exhibitions and other events held here recently which, I’m sure, will help things because this is a great facility.”
He added: “There isn’t that much business in Sunderland. I think if you believe some of the spin, you’d think it is some huge, metropolitan super-hub, but that just isn’t the case.
“If this kind of place had been built in Newcastle, there would have been a lot more interest. So that’s why it is taking longer to fill.”