City leaders promise speedy resolution as new £42 million City Hall HQ hit by audio 'teething problems'

City leaders on Wearside have criticised “unacceptable” audio issues in the new council chamber at City Hall and promised problems will be “resolved promptly”.

By Chris Binding
Tuesday, 28th June 2022, 3:43 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th June 2022, 4:02 pm

Meetings of Sunderland City Council transferred to the new building last year as councillors and staff started a phased move from the old Civic Centre to a replacement HQ at Riverside Sunderland.

However, a number of meetings since than have seen complaints made by both councillors and members of the public about audio quality in the multi-purpose council chamber space.

Despite wall-mounted speakers and each councillor having access to a portable microphone and audio device, concerns about audio quality were raised again at the latest meeting of the full council on June 22.

City Hall Sunderland

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Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, stressed the issue applied to a small percentage of local authority meetings.

While “teething problems” with the new City Hall building may be expected, the council leader explained, the issue of poor audio quality in the council chamber was “unacceptable” and was being dealt with.

Cllr Miller told the June full council meeting: “Members of the public who attend meetings at City Hall should be able to hear the proceedings without difficulty but as we have heard tonight, [that’s] not necessarily the case.

Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council

“We’re aware that there have been a very small percentage of meetings where there have been quality issues with the sound and teething problems like this may be expected when working in a new building.

“Where such issues have arisen, the council continues to work with its audio visual partner to resolve those issues.”

Cllr Miller added: “I spoke to the [council’s] chief executive on Monday about poor sound quality in here [the council chamber] and it’s completely unacceptable and I have been assured it will be resolved promptly.

“It’s clearly something that affects all of us and we all agree on this.”

Cllr Mel Speding

The council leader was responding to a public question tabled at the meeting which asked whether the “technology in the new City Hall” was “capable of allowing the public to clearly hear the meeting if present at the meeting”.

The response also followed comments from Labour councillor Mel Speding, who was applauded at the full council meeting for raising concerns about poor audio quality and its impact on the democratic process.

This included some councillors and members of the public having difficulty hearing the debate in full due to the “acoustics” in the council chamber.

Cllr Speding told the meeting: “We need desperately to do something about this for future council meetings.

“Unless it isn’t registered after today, there’s a real serious problem in disenfranchising councillors and the members of the public taking part in the proper and just democratic process of this city”.

Conservative councillor Pam Mann also endorsed the comments, adding it was important that councillors were able to hear legal advice from council officers as part of the council meeting process.

A Sunderland City Council spokesperson, speaking after the meeting, added: “We are aware that there have been a very small number of meetings where there have been quality issues with the sound in the council chamber.

“The council is working with its audio visual partner to ensure that any issues are resolved as quickly as possible.”