'How desperate' or the 'job of an opposition party'? Row over £59m Sunderland housing scheme

Rival politicians have clashed over parts of an ongoing multi-million-pound housing improvements programme.

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 9:54 am

Labour-controlled Sunderland City Council is leading a £59m project to build and regenerate hundreds of homes across the city.

Yet Councillor Michael Dixon, the opposition Conservative group’s housing spokesman, has questioned the work’s £900,000 cost while also highlighting ongoing problems with a property in the city’s Tunstall Terrace – which he says “would have been categorised as sub-standard when Queen Victoria was on the throne”.

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Rival Sunderland councillors Michael Dixon and Rebecca Dixon have clashed over housing issues in the city.
Rival Sunderland councillors Michael Dixon and Rebecca Dixon have clashed over housing issues in the city.

Now Cllr Rebecca Atkinson, Labour’s portfolio holder for housing and regeneration, has said: “This is a thinly-veiled political attack on a programme of work that has been hugely successful, just a year after being launched.

“Our hardworking team at the council – which is charged with bringing more than 360 empty properties back into use as family homes over the next five years, as well as building 117 new built properties and bringing forward 95 new homes, providing supported accommodation – has made huge strides in the last 12 months and the Tories’ attempts to cast shade on this simply shows how desperate they are.

“This Labour-led council is delivering on its promises and, despite Cllr Dixon knowing full well that we are developing properties at pace and bringing empty homes back into use too, the opposition party member has sought to throw shade on our progress and will no doubt attempt to claim credit when this Labour-led council achieves its objectives, under the auspices of having ‘brought the matter to the council’s attention’, when the reality is that we are already aware of, and working to deal with, a number of problematic empty premises in the city, including the property Cllr Dixon refers to.”

But Cllr Dixon, whose St Michael’s ward includes Tunstall Terrace, insisted “it is the job of an opposition party to ensure taxpayers' money is being spent responsibly”.

Cllr Michael Dixon outside a property in the city's Tunstall Terrace.

He added: “I can tell Cllr Atkinson quite clearly why I asked these questions.

"One, because five new council-built bungalows in Shiney Row are costing £900,000 to build and second, why has no progress been made with one of the worst properties in Sunderland, which happens to be in St Michael’s, the ward I represent as a city councillor?”

Cllr Dixon continued: “As for the empty property in St Michael’s ward, it has been in a disgraceful condition for a good few years now.

"So instead of criticising myself for bringing this to the public’s attention on behalf of ward resident’s living close by, she should thank them for their admirable tolerance and patience.

Work begins on new homes in Shiney Row. From left to right, Cllr Rebecca Atkinson, Sunderland City Council's Tracey Dobson, Graham Scanlon and Amanda Gallagher, Cllr Mel Speding, Dean Collings, from Tolent, Ian Avis, from Tolent, and Cllr Anne Lawson.

"Perhaps Cllr Atkinson should take a look at this house herself and hopefully, then, she will understand better.”

Cllr Atkinson, who is also a Labour ward councillor for Barnes and the council’s dynamic city portfolio holder, has previously told how the Shiney Row scheme incurred “additional development costs” through “the topography of this particular site, the required retaining features and constrained size of the site”.

But she insisted: "The development still met the council’s stringent requirements in respect of the net present value and the pay-back period.”

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