HUNDREDS gathered to question civic leaders about the future of Sunderland.
Leisure facilities, a live music venue and late-night shopping were just some of the issues raised at the annual State of the City Debate last night.
This year’s panel included Sunderland City Council leader Councillor Paul Watson and chief executive Dave Smith; Dr Ian Pattison, chairman of Sunderland’s Clinical Commissioning Group; Ken Bremner, chairman of the Sunderland Partnership; and Chief Superintendent Kay Blyth from Northumbria Police.
Three questions which had been voted for by Wearsiders in advance – viewed as the most important to the city – were put to the panel by Richard Moss, from the BBC, who chaired the event.
The first was about the Crowtree Leisure Centre.
Mr Smith told the audience at Sunderland University’s CitySpace: “We’ve been seeking to provide as many opportunities to as many people in Sunderland in terms of leisure and sports facilities.”
However, some audience members said that facilities such as the Aquatic Centre do not cater for families, and nothing had come close to replacing the Crowtree Leisure Centre in that respect.
Mr Smith said the poor condition of the building meant it would not be financially viable to reopen the centre.
The revitalisation of the ailing city centre was next on the agenda.
Coun Watson said: “The city centre is one of the five aims in the city’s masterplan.
“We need to get to grips with that in the next few years, and we know there’s a long way still to go.”
He spoke about the creation of a public square at St Mary’s.
Also, the plans for a new railway station and creating a business district that would in turn mean more people spending in the city centre were discussed.
The last predetermined question for the panel was if a credible music venue in the city would be built.
Mr Smith said that Sunderland was “rediscovering” its music roots, which would drive forward the music scene and venues.
He added that events such as Split Festival would help create more venues and opportunities for live music in the future in Sunderland.
WHAT is happening to improve shopping in Sunderland?
That was one of the issues which saw the audience get increasingly vocal at the debate.
One woman said the new Primark extension to The Bridges would not cater to the fashion tastes of elderly Wearsiders.
“Older people would not want to go there. Older people have a disposable income. There’s a small Debenhams or a small Marks and Spencer, but if I want to buy a new outfit I get straight on the train to Newcastle.”
That earned her a round of applause.
Another woman claimed that Sunderland city centre did not cater for anyone.
She also wanted to know why there was no late-night shopping in the centre.
Coun Paul Watson said: “Late-night shopping is being actively considered which would increase the footfall to the centre.”
Another woman said she wanted to be proud to bring friends and family to visit Sunderland – but there were very few attractions to show them.