Council chiefs prepare £100m bid for Sunderland train station improvement works

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An £100m council bid from a UK Government funding pot could benefit plans to transform Sunderland’s train station, councillors have heard.

Yesterday (April 17), Sunderland City Council’s (SCC) economic prosperity scrutiny committee heard an update on the Sunderland Station Redevelopment Project which has been in limbo for years due to lack of funds.

Public transport operator Nexus have committed £3.5m alongside SCC’s £3.7m – about half of the expected £13-15m construction costs.

Network Rail had also pledged £3m to the scheme, but this was later withdrawn following a government spending review.

The committee heard from SCC’s head of infrastructure and transportation Mark Jackson and regeneration manager, Dan Hattle, at Sunderland Civic Centre, who clarified information around funding for the scheme.

The council is preparing designs in the hope it will entice the final funds while also preparing a bid for the Transforming Cities Fund (TCF).

Announced last year, the fund aims to “improve productivity and spread prosperity” through investment in public and sustainable transport.

If funds are raised for the train station scheme, it’s hoped construction could start sometime in the 2019/20 financial year.

Mr Jackson said the TCF pot covers 10 areas and is worth around £840m with SCC’s anticipated bid aiming to be around £100m plus.

He said current plans put SCC in a “strong position” and that the train station plans are the “ most deliverable scheme currently.”

Committee members stressed the need for the scheme at the meeting, criticising the current condition of the train station.

Coun Barry Curran added that an “iconic station needs quite a lot of investment” and that a new station needs to be designed against the “limitations” of the infrastructure surrounding it.

“At the moment, we have something which is like third world and it’s embarrassing,” he said.

“Over the last 50 years we have allowed it to go into decline and it’s wrong.

“The station has to take priority and retail secondary. We need to make something where people want to go inside of it and want to be part of it.”

Coun Elizabeth Gibson said it was “imperative” that station works were done following city regeneration work such as the Fire Station and Keel Square.

“We have visitors arriving and the first impression they have isn’t good,” she said.

The committee heard the proposed works would focus on the above ground station rather than platform level, with an aim of attracting more footfall and business to the city in the long term.

“We’re still committed to this project and the best chance of getting funding is that we have a deliverable scheme which will in theory make it easier to attract funds,” Mr Hattle said.

In response to a question from Coun Christine Marshall about the scale of design, Mr Hattle added the station had to be achievable.

“It’s not going to be huge and grand as some of the railway stations in the world,” he said.

“We need to make it feel like a train station. It feels lost at the moment behind a lot of retail units.

“Our position as a council is that it has to be a railway station first and a retail has to fit in around it.”

Mr Tattle also confirmed the taxi rank near the station would be considered in designs but that repositioning it “is not an option at this point”.

In response to a question from Coun Michael Dixon, the officer said this area “doesn’t work as a space’ and is “chaotic” with a mix of taxis, vehicles and pedestrians.

“That’s the challenge, trying to find an option that finds a balance. Very rarely is there one that ticks all the boxes,” Mr Tattle added.

Coun Stuart Porthouse also criticised Network Rail’s funding contribution, questioning their interest in the economic prosperity” of Sunderland.

Mr Jackson said that Network Rail could “still bring money to the table” subject to a council business case with Northern Rail.

When asked if SCC had any “leverage” in the situation by Coun Porthouse, the transport officer added that “the best thing is to increase the number of people coming through Sunderland every year.”

Mr Tattle, responding to a question from Coun Doris Turner, said there were no plans to build a cover over Market Square connecting the station to other buildings.

This was because of the extra costs and the affect of the licence with the Bridges Shopping Centre, the meeting heard.

The current city station opened in 1965 following redevelopment of the area after the previous station was bombed in 1943.

Designs for the proposed new station have toilets and finalised plans will be brought back to the committee for further scrutiny in future.

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service