The five major projects set to transform Sunderland city centre after £25m funding granted

Five key projects will see Sunderland city centre transformed after the city secured £25million of government funding.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 5:26 pm

Sunderland was one of 72 towns and cities across the UK to receive a multi-million-pound boost from the Government’s Future High Streets Fund (FHSF) at the end of last year – and one of just two to receive the maximum possible £25million grant.

Now the city council’s Cabinet has begun the search to hire contractors and consultants who will drive the projects.

Council leader Coun Graeme Miller said: “We have a plan for the city centre, and the FHSF grant will accelerate a number of the projects included in it. We’re making every penny count, ensuring that this funding is used to supercharge developments that will stimulate footfall, and prepare the ground for more investment, with infrastructure projects that will make it easier for us to take sites to market and continue to attract the private sector in.”

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£25m is set to be spent on projects in Sunderland city centre
£25m is set to be spent on projects in Sunderland city centre

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In pictures: Visions of Sunderland in 2030 as part of £100 million Riverside Sun...

The cash will deliver five main projects, to help drive the city centre’s economic recovery.

Culture House

Scheduled to open by 2024, the Culture House, located on the southern perimeter of Keel Square, will provide a new state of the art city library and cultural hub.

How the Culture House will look

Described as a community living room, with all the benefits of high-end digital connectivity, Culture House will become a key focal point for a range of groups and feature a public library, as well as learning resources, to support residents of all ages.

Speaking when plans for the building – expected to attract 600,000 visitors a year - were announced last October, Coun Miller said: “The Culture House will be a library – but unlike any we have seen in the city.

“It will be an engaging, interactive, playful environment, where people of all ages will feel inspired and enthused and can learn in fun new ways.

Elephant Tea Rooms Building

Work on the Keel Square hotel has started

Currently occupied by the Local Studies Centre, the building will be restored and converted.

The first phase will see the exterior of the building restored, including replacing the modern shopfront with one in a traditional style, and repairs to the exterior stonework and distinctive terracotta used on the facia.

The second phase, once the Local Studies Centre is relocated to Culture House, will see the upper floors converted to residential units and the ground floor to commercial units, opposite the stunningly restored Mackies’ Corner.

“Riverside Sunderland is the epicentre of our transforming city centre, but we’re determined to ensure that the ripples are felt throughout the heart of the city,” said Coun Miller.

The Elephant Tea Rooms will become shops and flats

“The Elephant Tea Rooms is a stunning building, and through this work, we’ll make it an even more attractive place, that will be returned to the high street focal point it once was.”


Some of the money will go towards readying the former leisure centre site for investment.

The funding will be used to acquire a number of properties in the area and demolish the remainder of the Crowtree Leisure Centre, which will create a new shovel-ready plot for leisure led development.

Keel Square Hotel

Already under construction, and due to open in Winter 2021/22, the FHSF funding will enable the fit out of two of the ground floor commercial units, which will provide attractive new retail space to link High Street West and The Bridges to the new urban quarter taking shape on the former Vaux Brewery site.

Improvements on St Mary’s Boulevard, will improve the link between Keel Square and the Vaux site

St Mary’s Boulevard

Improvements will be made to pedestrian crossing points, including to the crossing between Keel Square and the Vaux site, to help strengthen the link between Riverside Sunderland and the wider city centre.

The plans will ensure that – when the council’s new City Hall opens in September – it is as easy as possible for the 2,000 people who work there to make their way into the heart of the city, bringing with them a spending power that can help fuel the city economy by day and by night.

“Linking Riverside Sunderland to the existing city centre footprint is a critical part of our plan,” said Coun Miller.

“With up to 10,000 people expected to work on Riverside Sunderland, and 2,500 people likely to live there when all four new residential communities are built, the positive impact on existing businesses in Sunderland will be significant. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to move around the site by foot, ensuring that the investment brings maximum advantage to all parts of our city centre.”

The former Crowtree Leisure Centre site will be made ready for development