Vaux site: Plans for new Sunderland public sector hub revealed - but no leases signed yet for the Beam

A label shot of the Vaux site, Sunderland. Picture by Tom Banks
A label shot of the Vaux site, Sunderland. Picture by Tom Banks

A public sector hub planned for Sunderland’s Vaux site could house a mix of council, health and government services, it has been revealed.

And although no leases have yet been signed for the Beam - the first building on the land - site bosses say there has been interest.

The updates came as Sunderland City Council’s Economic Prosperity Scrutiny Committee heard on progress from Siglion – a partnership between the council and now-defunct Carillion.

Planning permission for the first building on site, the Beam, was granted in 2015 but building ground to a halt following the collapse of the construction giant.

However, work restarted in July with Tolent brought in as a construction partner and ‘phase one’ of the works are expected to be complete by March.

This week, Siglion’s chief executive, John Seager, revealed details on ‘phase two’ of the scheme at Sunderland Civic Centre including plans for ‘The Hub’.

Early proposals include two buildings connected by a glass atrium fronting onto St Mary’s Boulevard with an aim of attracting public sector and private sector organisations.

“We have been talking to a number of public sector occupiers which range from parts of the council, to the Department of Work and Pensions to NHS trusts to local GP surgeries and some private sector occupiers,” Mr Seager said.

“It’s a formula familiar to a lot of cities who are dealing with customers and it’s a presentation of a united front with all the same services.

“The basis is that it allows a lot building efficiencies because you have shared meeting room space and shared costs and it puts it in a important place in the city centre.”

Plans for remaining space on the Vaux site includes business space, homes, cultural spaces and “ancillary retail”  with the potential for restaurant and gym uses.

Mr Seager stressed the site was about “creating a market that doesn’t already exist” and while no leases had been signed for the Beam, he explained, there was interest from potential occupiers.

“Sunderland city centre hasn’t had a building of this scale and development for over two decades,” he said.

“There have been a number of people who have come and had a look at the building and are considering moving into it.

“What’s absolutely certain is they wouldn’t even be looking in the city centre if this building wasn’t there so we put the city on the map by building this building.”

Earlier this year, Sunderland City Council bosses gave authority to officers to begin granting contracts, with businesses potentially offered rent discounts of up to £50,000 to move in.

In response to a question from Coun Stephen O’Brien about timescales for leases, the Siglion boss added the hope would be that the building would be “fully let by day one”.

Earlier this year, Sunderland City Council also revealed intentions to demolish its 1970s offices in Burdon Road and move to the Vaux site to save spiralling costs of repairs.

Plans were backed by cabinet in October, with council bosses expected to firm up proposals over the coming months before a final decision is made.

Coun Michael Dixon asked if there would be benefits of the council move to the Vaux site.

“Has that helped yourselves that a massive employer has possibly committed themselves to move over? Has it created more interest from other people?” he said.

Mr Seager, responding, added: “There have been a couple of people that we have spoken to who have been concerned that they would be the only building on the site for some time.

“All the time we have been progressing with the public sector hub building the outline design for the building has been really important for us to tell the story that the site is ever-evolving and there will be lots of people here.

“Partly it’s the dynamics of not being the only person there but its the ground floor occupiers, if you have a coffee shop that’s full and restaurant that’s full it’s going to last and work.

“The more people the better.”

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service