COUNCIL bosses are set to greenlight the first stage of two multi-million pound regeneration projects in Sunderland city centre.
A meeting of the council’s cabinet next Wednesday will be asked to approve plans to lease the former Crowtree leisure centre site to The Bridges shopping centre owners Pavilion, for a new store and a half-acre plot next to the new Keel Square, to the Newcastle-based Cairn Hotel Group (CHG).
The hotel project would involve the council retaining the right to sub-let the ground floor, letting it control what sort of businesses are allowed to open next to the square.
The Cabinet report says: “Discussions have taken place with CHG who are an established hotel operator for a hotel development, on this prominent and sensitive site.
“The proposals are considered to be appropriate for this location and meet the council’s vision for a high-quality building with suitable ground floor commercial uses, fronting on to the new square.
“CHG have a track record of operating high-quality hotel developments nationally and it is, therefore, considered they would be a suitable operator for such a significant development.”
Sub-letting would allow the council “to retain control of the ground-floor space in a strategically-important position for the future regeneration of the city centre, fronting onto Keel Square.’
A CHG spokesman said it was too early to comment on the plans: “It is not something that we are able to discuss at the moment,” he said.
If it goes ahead, the scheme will become the latest in a series of hotel developments in the city centre, after the opening of the Travelodge in High Street West, Premier Inn at the bottom of Chester Road and Hilton next to the Stadium of Light.
Expansion of The Bridges has been on the cards since the decision to demolish Crowtree was first announced, just over two years ago.
“Due to their ownership of the adjacent Bridges Shopping Centre, dealing directly with Pavilion is considered advantageous as it enables a more comprehensive development to be undertaken in terms of access, construction and future management,” says the cabinet report. Andrew Bradley, Centre Director at The Bridges said: “We are always exploring ways to enhance the choice and range of offer for our customers in Sunderland. However, until any plans are progressed it is too early in this particular process to comment further.”
The deal will depend on approval of the development’s design and Pavilion getting planning permission.
Next week’s meeting will hear the two schemes represent the best value for money compared to either holding on to the sites, or trying to find alternative developers.
‘Masterplan will keep people in Sunderland’
SUNDERLAND City Council has identified the need to get more people working and spending in the city centre as a key element of its 15-year Economic Masterplan.
Council cabinet secretary Coun Mel Speding, said: “The council is always looking at options to work with developers and other partners.
“We want to secure further development and regeneration, see more new homes built, and attract more people to live and work in our city.
“As many people are aware, the council has a comprehensive regeneration and redevelopment scheme that has been re-shaping the city centre.
“These works have included improving St Mary’s Way, improving access for Vaux, creating the new Keel Square, plus this fresh development opportunity at the Crowtree site.
“Keel Square not only represents a new quality civic space for people to enjoy, but also brings forward further investment sites around it to attract inward investment to the city.
“All these works are about building and concentrating more economic activity in our city centre.
“The report to Cabinet is part of this big picture that is in keeping with Sunderland’s ambitions, both now and in the future.
“This is for improving infrastructure by attracting and providing public and private investment, so that we are increasing our prosperity and providing an economic boost for everyone.”
Ken Dunbar, chief executive of the Sunderland Business Improvement District, said: “This is fantastic news for the city – these are essential sites.
“Increasing and enhancing the retail offer is a great way to create vibrancy in the city centre, and having better places to stay and enjoy the evening economy.
“It is all about making sure businesses respond to what people want, particularly in the evening.”
With Sunderland set to host the Tall Ships Race in 2018, it was essential to make rapid progress on the city centre work, said Mr Dunbar.
“It is vitally important that these facilities are ready in time for when people want to visit the city,” he added.
‘It’s about time it was tidied up’
SHOPPERS in the city centre had their say on the mulit-million pound redevelopment plans
Mary Brown, from Silksworth said: “The square is a bit of a mess at the minute, but we need something to attract people to the city and this could be it. We also need bigger and better shops.”
Jennifer Davison, of Thornhill, said: “It will improve the way the city looks.”
Robert Taylor, from Seaham, added: “I think it’s about time the square was tidied up. It’s taken a long time, but it will improve the area.
“Sunderland has been a bit mix and match, but its good to see some regeneration.”
David Scales, from the city centre, said: “It’s the only bit of green space left in the city. It should just be left.
“They could build a seating area and a play park for the children.”
Vaux site will be ‘hugely critical’
THE redevelopment of the heart of Sunderland is critical to the city’s future, says an economic think tank.
‘Centre for Cities, A Century of Cities’ report released today, highlights Wearside’s success in replacing jobs lost with the closure of the pits and shipyards, but says new vacancies have tended to be “in lower-skilled work on out-of-town sites”, and the city has the second highest rate of people in lower-skilled jobs in the country.
It warns development such as the International Advanced Manufacturing Park near Nissan is likely to “reinforce the past”.
Sunderland-born co-author Paul Swinney, said the city centre was the key to long-term success.
“Vaux is hugely critical,” he said. “Sunderland’s city centre is emblematic of its economic problems and I think the Vaux site is one of the keys to solving those problems.
“The public transport links within Sunderland are okay, but when you start to move further afield, it starts to get much more difficult.
“How do you get people who want to work in Sunderland into the city from East Durham, or even Washington?”