Plans approved for £14m Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy in Sunderland

Plans for a multi-million pound facility aiming to train and upskill the housebuilders of the future have taken a step forward.

Saturday, 19th June 2021, 1:43 pm
How the Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy would look (Image: Sunderland City Council).
How the Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy would look (Image: Sunderland City Council).

Earlier this week, Sunderland City Council’s cabinet received a progress update on proposals for the Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy (HICSA) in the Sheepfolds area of the city.

The project aims to train local people to create innovative factory-built new homes, the first of which will be built as part of a new neighbourhood at Riverside Sunderland.

Council bosses believe that the plans fit with the Government’s levelling up agenda – creating more economic opportunities for people and businesses by enabling the area to ‘build its own’ homes.

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They also hope that the HICSA, which will cost around £14 million to build, will receive financial support as part of the Government’s Build Back Better and Levelling Up agendas.

If funding is secured, the academy will allow Sunderland to ensure local people play a leading role in constructing homes of the future.

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, updated cabinet members on the project at a meeting on Tuesday, June 15.

“For decades the UK has failed to build enough homes which has led to rising housing costs,” he said.

“The Government has set an ambitious target to build 300,000 homes annually by the mid-2020s but constraints such as the shortage of skilled workers mean it cannot meet that target using traditional building methods alone.

“A significant proportion of homes must therefore be built using modern methods of construction to achieve this target.

“The shortage of workers with relevant skills is one of the main constraints to increasing the pace of housing delivery in the UK and it is vital that there is an increase in skills provision and home-building becomes an appealing career choice for young people.

“To address these shortfalls and position the city at the forefront of housing innovation, ensuring the skills of local people meet the needs of industry and maximising employment opportunities, the council has been developing proposals with Sunderland College and the Ministry of Building Innovation and Education to create an industry-leading education and skills academy.

“This will promote the use of modern methods of construction in the delivery of high-quality new homes, embrace low carbon and renewable energy and digital technology and accelerate carbon reduction through the retrofitting of the city’s existing housing stock.

“The HICSA will change the approach to the design and construction of new homes and it will make a decisive contribution to Sunderland’s zero carbon and smart city targets.”

According to cabinet papers, the HICSA would be a “critical link between academia and industry, establishing Sunderland as a regional and national hub for housing innovation, research and development.”

It also aims to support the “attraction and retention of local talent, providing greater opportunities for young people from under privileged communities, and [to] support the growth of Sunderland College as a business and technical centre of excellence.”

At this week’s cabinet meeting, council chiefs agreed to several recommendations, including ‘taking all necessary steps’ to procure its delivery up to, but not including, the award of a building contract.

Other recommendations, subject to funding, included entering into a lease agreement with Sunderland College as the proposed tenant for the long term letting of the HICSA following ‘practical completion.’

According to a report prepared for cabinet, the HICSA is included in the council’s approved capital programme at a cost of £10.95 million, of which the council was anticipated to contribute £5.475 million.

However the current estimated cost is now £14.2 million which reflects the “expansion of the building footprint and the associated fit out works to accommodate additional teaching space and broaden the range of training.”

Sunderland City Council’s proposed contribution remains unchanged at £5.475 million, with the remaining balance £8.725 million, being sought from external sources including the Government’s ‘Levelling Up Fund.’

The cabinet report adds that third party funding is “critical” to the delivery of the project, although council officers remain “hopeful of securing the required grant.”

Councillor Linda Williams, cabinet member for Vibrant City, welcomed the “fabulous proposal.”

She added: “I’m so excited that it is coming forward and let’s hope we do get it to fruition and be able to reinvigorate our local communities to take up these jobs.

“It’s an investment in housing and investment in our young people and it’s great.”

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