Council plans to revamp Sunderland’s Minster Quarter have taken a step forward after councillors backed a new phase of works for Town Park.
The park, at the south of Sunderland minster, is part of the Bishopwearmouth Townscape Heritage Scheme, which was confirmed last year.
This includes a £1.9million Heritage Lottery Fund boost for the area and a £423,000 update to the park.
On February 4, Sunderland City Council’s South Development Control Sub-Committee backed new proposals for the site.
Plans include changes to footpaths, improvements to the steps from Town Park to Low Row and churchyard wall repairs.
A new central seating area enclosed by a limestone wall will also be created on the centre of the site.
The county archeologist and English Heritage had no objections to the scheme with no expected impact on protected species.
However, a late sheet circulated to councillors at Sunderland Civic Centre, states the works have the potential to “disturb remains” at the former churchyard of Sunderland Minster.
If remains were found, the council would have to apply to the church for permission to continue or apply for a licence from the Ministry of Justice.
Coun Pat Smith said: “If any remains were found regarding burials how much would that knock everything back in terms of going through the processes?”
Coun Colin English also asked how the legal process could play out, raising concerns about a sealed off vault under the minster.
A planning officer said no delays were expected with an archeologist on site monitoring the sensitive areas around the city Minster during the works.
The meeting also heard the plans were not intrusive compared to previous works and only applied to a boundary wall.
Cabinet member for housing and regeneration, Coun Stuart Porthouse, praised the Town Park plans.
“It’s a step in the right direction for this part of the town, he said,” I think when you see the full plans for that area you would be really excited to see exactly what’s going on.
“This is only part of a much bigger scheme for that area and I certainly welcome it.”
A report to senior councillors last year outlined how there are already 22 potential building restoration and enhancement projects in the scheme with a value of up to £1.2million.
The heritage area contains 11 listed buildings including the Grade II-listed Empire Theatre, Sunderland Minster, and the Peacock and Dun Cow public houses.
The Town Park decision will see the application passed onto the executive director of economy and place for final approval.
The works will also be kept in check by several conditions covering the site’s “potential archaeological interest”.
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service