News focus: Is this Sunderland's answer to the Angel?

THE multimillion pound company behind the plans for the 328ft-high Holmeside high-rise is confident the skyscraper will make Sunderland an international name.

The 33-storey tower will be the highest building north of Manchester, outdoing anything in Newcastle, Edinburgh or Glasgow.

It will be more than five times the height of the Angel of the North.

The London-based firm which drew up the plans, Thornfield, was a gold award winner at the 2006 British Council of Shopping Centres Annual Awards.

For the project on Holmeside, Thornfield has brought together world-class retail architects Building Design Partnership (BDP) and residential architects Page and Park from Glasgow.

Michael Capocci, Thornfield's chief executive, said the plans could make Sunderland a worldwide name.

He said: "We want to produce a scheme in the heart of Sunderland which is not only inspirational, but becomes nationally if not internationally recognised.

"It would be a symbol synonymous for excellence and success which all of Sunderland's citizens can be proud of.

"We are confident we can achieve this if we have the support of the whole of the city working together with a coordinated plan and vision."

The Spirit of Sunderland is planned for a 7.26 acre city centre plot, known as the Holmeside Triangle, as centrepiece of a 190million regeneration scheme.

Plans include 150 apartments, shops, restaurants, cafes and a cocktail bar, in the tower, with panoramic views over the city.

Sunderland arc appointed Thornfield because of their impressive track record of award-winning city centre regeneration schemes.

They believe the high-rise will transform people's experience of the city and predict the finished article will create about 1,800 jobs.

The plans have been backed by English Partnerships.

Steve Gawthorpe, area director of English Partnerships, the Government's national regeneration agency, said it was a very important development for the city.

He said: "We are very pleased to support this development, which will change the face of retail in Sunderland."

BDP is best known for its contribution to the Millennium Quarter in Manchester, which was regenerated after it was destroyed in the 1996 IRA bombing.

The area now contains some of the newest and oldest buildings in the city and houses retailers like Selfridges, Harvey Nichols amid stunning public spaces.

The plans for Spirit of Sunderland got a mixed reaction from the public

Daniel Scrafton, 20, a car insurance salesman, lives in Echo 24. He said: "I don't want a building taller than Echo 24 to be built, but I must admit it looks nice. Have you ever seen Sunderland from above? It doesn't look good, that is why I have a sea view. I like the sound of the bar and the shops and if it brings money into the city then I am all for it."

Norman Stephenson, 84, a retired miner, from Easington Lane, said: "It's disgusting. Who the heck is going to climb all they way up there for a drink? I don't think it will be good for the city. In fact I don't think tall buildings are a good idea with all the storms we have been having, and earthquakes."

James Bloomer, 18, a sports science student at Sunderland University, from Washington, said: "I don't think it will even happen and if it does it will not fit in with the rest of the city. I think it would be better to spend the money on the streets in the city centre in general because it looks like a bit of a dump, it's awful."

Anthony March, 31, a sports student at Sunderland University, from Seaham said: "I don't like it. The bar with the views would be good, but in 10 years time it will look like look just as bad as Echo 24 and Solar House. I think they should build stuff in keeping with the old buildings in the city, like Grey Street in Newcastle."

Mrs Newton, a retired farm worker, from Fulwell, said: "It's not right having a tall building like that sticking out. I think we have enough flats around here, we need family homes. Calling Sunderland a city is a joke because they are just pulling it to bits. You see shops opening up and two weeks later they are shut. I think they should concentrate on eye level where people are walking."