QUESTIONS should be asked about how the multimillion- pound budget for Sunderland’s new public square will be spent, say the city’s Conservatives.
A total of £11.8million will be spent on the new Magistrates’ Square development in St Mary’s Way – but the Tories say this is too much for a relatively small development.
The city’s Conservative group leader Councillor Robert Oliver is calling for a breakdown of the costs to be made public, as he believes the money would be better spent elsewhere.
“The plans for a new city square look grand but the cost of £11.8million seems high for what is only a small area of redevelopment, so questions should be asked about how much is being spent and on what,” Coun Oliver said.
“The plans cost too much for too little, leaving much of the city centre untouched when the development could have been spread out to improve a wider area.”
Coun Oliver also fears the development will split the city centre.
“The plans also divide Sunderland into two city centres: Magistrates’ Square and the Market Square, both of which are far from the bus terminal and move the city centre further west to the detriment of Sunniside,” he said.
“The designs are elaborate where a functional design would be adequate, with the remaining funds being better spent on addressing the real weakness of Sunderland city centre which is the poor retail offer.
“To attract more visitors what the city needs is better quality shops with a department store or larger chain stores in order to compete with Newcastle and bring people into the city.
“This could be achieved by using some of the funds to provide incentives or subsidies to encourage more retailers to come to the city so residents have more and better shops to choose from.”
Council leader and Labour councillor Paul Watson said the scheme has been worked out by qualified town planners.
“They know the metrics very well,” he said.
“If we want a quality town square we are going to have to pay for it.”
Magistrates’ Square is under construction as part of the realignment of St Mary’s Way. The work began in May and it is hoped the development will be complete by the end of 2014.
It will feature two artworks as its centrepiece – Propellers of the City and The Keel Line – to celebrate its industrial and shipbuilding heritage, along with water features, landscaping, street furniture and space for cafe culture-style entertainment.