Is Sunderland’s £9million software centre nothing more than a white elephant?

Software City building, Tavistock Place/Laura Street, Sunderland
Software City building, Tavistock Place/Laura Street, Sunderland
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SUNDERLAND’S £9million Software Centre is home to just one business, the Echo can reveal.

Built on the site of the Tavistock car park, the development was created to help boost the growth of the software sector in Wearside and across the North East.

It was designed to house up to 60 hi-tech companies. But a Freedom of Information request from the Echo has revealed it houses just one business, Keith Wallace’s firm TTMG Internet.

Sunderland Conservative councillor Peter Wood said: “It’s very disappointing.

“We are all in favour of things like this, but they have to work. I was a member of the planning committee which gave permission for the development in the first place.

“It was certainly a controversial use of the land in question – the Tavistock Place car park was well used and well situated in respect of town centre businesses who were not happy to lose it.

“We were given the distinct impression that businesses were queuing up to use the facilities the software centre would offer them.”

He added: “Blaming the recession won’t work – economic conditions were difficult at the time of the planning application.

“We can only hope that, eventually, full use is made of such expensive office space. Unless that happens it will be a white elephant.”

The project was created using financing secured through £1.4million from the Working Neighbourhood Fund, £4.5million from the European Regional Development Fund and £3.1million from the now defunct One NorthEast.

Jonathan Walker, head of member relations at the North East Chamber of Commerce, said it was “disappointing” Software Centre had not attracted more businesses.

But he said there were mitigating factors such as the onset of the recession and the fact the building has yet to be officially opened.

He added: “While recent national GDP figures provided little in the way of optimism, our own Quarterly Economic Surveys have demonstrated an upturn in regional business optimism and investment over the past 12 months and I’m sure this positivity will see firms taking an interest in this fantastic city centre location.”

Sunderland City Council leader Coun Watson said: “The Sunderland Software Centre is open for business and arrangements for its official opening are being planned.

“As its fitting out continues, the centre’s hi-tech and state of the art specifications are already attracting enquiries from possible tenants. It is one of a series of buildings in the city providing homes to new businesses and established software companies.

“These include the Evolve Centre at Rainton Bridge, the Jupiter Centre at the Business and Innovation Centre, and St Peter’s Gate at the University of Sunderland.

“Premises which are all very popular with companies.

“In addition, the building is part of the council’s longer term Economic Masterplan for further job creation and investment across all of the city. We have a strong record for job creation and attracting investment and we are confident that more jobs and companies will be locating in the software centre over the coming years.”

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LONE trader Keith Wallace says he wants to see more firms moving into the building.

Mr Wallace, who runs TTMG Internet from Software Centre, said the location is ideal for start-up firms.

“It’s a very impressive place,” said Mr Wallace, who has been based at the site since October.

“The facilities here are excellent and I think there are a number of businesses that are missing an opportunity.”

Mr Wallace added that if more companies and their staff were using Software City, it would most likely have a positive knock-on effect on TTMG Internet.

He said: “From my perspective, if more businesses were in here I’d be able to sub-contract work and they’d probably be able to sub-contract work to me as well.

“There’d be cross-fertilisation between the businesses. I support the councillors’ point of view that it should be full and it would be great if it could be.”