AFTER a struggle spanning more than 11 years, the most talked-about development site in Wearside is now in the city’s hands.
Sunderland City Council have now closed the deal over the Vaux site with supermarket chain Tesco, unlocking the prime development site seen as the key to regeneration.
Thousands of jobs are expected to be created at a new city centre district including offices, apartments and retail units.
Council leader Paul Watson said: “I’m delighted to announce this excellent news not only for the people of Sunderland, but also our neighbours who look to Sunderland city centre for their work, education, shopping and leisure needs.
“Now that the city owns the Vaux site we can look forward to its redevelopment as a business hub. While construction will not happen overnight and could be some time away, this is a significant step forward.
“The first thing for us is to get on-site and begin its remediation.”
Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott, said: “It’s fantastic news. The key with the Vaux site was getting it in public ownership. That is the best news I’ve heard all year.
“It’s such a gateway site for the city and I’m sure everyone involved will continue to work to get development happening – and not just any development, it’s about getting the best development on that site.”
Overlooking the River Wear, the 26-acre site is widely regarded as one of the North East’s most significant regeneration sites.
Initial work will include clearing the site of debris and old building foundations with the aim of making it look more presentable, and looking at its potential for possible temporary uses before major development work starts.
Tesco has owned the site since 2001 and was granted planning permission last year for a superstore development on the Sunderland Retail Park in nearby Roker.
An agreement in principle was reached with Tesco last year that the site could be sold to the public sector. The final sale price is not being made public for commercial reasons.
Coun Watson said: “Vaux is a regionally-significant site and this is the largest redevelopment opportunity that the city centre has ever seen.”
Doug Wilson, corporate affairs manager for Tesco, added: “We have continued to work closely with Sunderland City Council and other public sector bodies to resolve the future of the site.
“Tesco remains committed to making further major investment into the city and this announcement means we can now move forward with our exciting plans at the Sunderland Retail Park.”
Scepticism remains, however, as to how easy it will be to develop the Vaux site. Sunderland arc, the agency charged with spearheading development of the plot, will officially close next month and the UK is facing bleak financial times.
Sunderland Conservatives leader Tony Morrissey said: “It would be nice to think that the completion of the purchase of the Vaux site from Tesco would mark the beginning of a long overdue regeneration of Sunderland’s city centre, but this is unlikely to be the case.
“The reality is that the same people who have held up development on the site for the last decade are now in control of its future. While that makes the ultimate responsibility for the site clearer it makes the prospect of development no more likely.
“Council ownership of the Vaux site seems to have become an end in itself when we could have got what we wanted though normal negotiations and planning conditions. Now we have spent a considerable amount of money to own a site without, I suspect, any real notion of what to do with it.”