EXTENDING Sunderland’s Bridges shopping centre can be a catalyst for city centre regeneration, say business and civic leaders.
Centre owner Land Securities confirmed this week it has been given the go-ahead for a scheme which will transform the High Street West entrance and create a new home for a giant Primark in the city.
SAFC head of venue and events Gary Hutchinson, chairman of the North East Chamber of Commerce’s Sunderland committee, said the shopping centre was a good news story on Wearside.
He said: “Having met the new centre manager, Andy Bradley, I am very, very impressed with how the centre is doing.
“The Bridges has got 100 per cent occupation, they have got people wanting to be in there and now Primark is coming.
“It is really pleasing to see such a high profile name, which I hope will bring in more operators.
“Footfall has never been better, people are showing a real interest in Sunderland and things are starting to move – the product in the city centre is great, so let’s support that product.”
With Tesco set to develop the Roker Retail park site, there are high hopes the redevelopment of the Vaux brewery site may finally start.
Gary added: “There is so much enthusiasm in the business community.
“We need to look at other areas in order to compete with other cities in these tough times. We need to be a bit more bold as a city because we are up against some tough competition.”
City council leader Coun Paul Watson said the Bridges development was “massive” for Sunderland.
He said that creating more jobs in the city centre was a key target of the council’s 15-year economic masterplan.
He said: “There is an understanding in the masterplan that we need to ensure the heart of the economy, the city centre, is robust and this is a massive step towards that.”
Progress on the Vaux site stalled because of a dispute over ownership.
Coun Watson said: “Originally, ownership was going to be vested in the regional development agency.
“It does not make sense to put it into their ownership, then have to transfer it somewhere else in the next few months.
“It is just a case of finding out where the Government actually wants us to vest the land ownership – but the Vaux site will be in public ownership.”