Apartments approved for historic Somerford Buildings in Sunniside

Somerford Buildings, Norfolk Street, Sunniside. Picture: Google MapsSomerford Buildings, Norfolk Street, Sunniside. Picture: Google Maps
Somerford Buildings, Norfolk Street, Sunniside. Picture: Google Maps
Plans to transform a historic city centre building and “local landmark” into flats have been given the green light by council development chiefs.

Sunderland City Council’s planning department has approved an application for the Somerford Buildings off Norfolk Street in the Sunniside area.

The three-storey property at the edge of Sunniside Gardens was built in the early 20th Century and has most recently been used as offices.

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A planning application said there would be a net increase of 11 ‘dwellinghouses’ at the site, with floor plans showing 11 self-contained flats over three floors.

Each flat was proposed to offer living space and a shower room/bathroom, as well as the majority of flats offering kitchen facilities.

The housing mix included both one-bedroom and two-bedroom flats, with some larger two-bedroom flats catering for up to four people.

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Those behind the project said the wider residential scheme had the potential to house up to 22 people, according to planning documents.

A heritage statement submitted to council officials described the Somerford Buildings as a “minor local landmark within Sunniside” which “contributes positively to Sunniside’s historic character and appearance” as a “high-quality landmark of architectural and townscape merit”.

The heritage statement added the proposed flats would have a “minimal” impact on the “character and sustainability” of the local conservation area and would complement wider plans to make Sunniside a “mixed-use quarter”.

It was also argued that bringing the building back into “active use” would “safeguard its future and prevent the building from deteriorating”.

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During a council consultation exercise on the plans, an objection was raised by Norfolk Street Studios over concerns the development would be a house in multiple occupation (HMO).

The comment, published on the council’s planning portal website, said the area’s “economic prosperity has been held back significantly over the years as a result of the problems caused by HMO accommodation”, including anti-social behaviour.

The comment added that “high numbers of HMOs in the area are also one of the biggest single contributors to poor perceived public perceptions of the area and have a material and adverse impact on the many businesses in Sunniside that are working to develop and transform the area”.

However, a council report included comments from developers which maintained the proposal would not be an HMO, which typically includes multiple households sharing communal facilities, and that the development would instead create “individual dwellings (flats)”.

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The council report added: “The developer has also qualified that the flats will be rented via individual assured shorthold tenancies or for sale on the open market”.

After considering the planning application, Sunderland City Council’s planning department approved it on July 5, 2024.

Council planners, in a decision report, said that “parking can be relaxed” as the site is in a sustainable location near public transport links and that no objections had been raised by council highways engineers.

The development was also considered acceptable in relation to noise, subject to conditions around “noise mitigation measures”.

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It was noted that the Somerford Buildings have “landmark qualities” due to the “scale and prominent position within the conservation area” and that the site is “notable for its fine external features which give it its distinctive Edwardian Baroque architectural style”.

On heritage matters, council planners said the proposed flats scheme was “likely to have a regenerative effect on the area”.

The council decision report added: “The proposal has been subject to consultation with the council’s conservation officer who, in response, has qualified that the change of use of the building to residential apartments is encouraging in principle as it will return a vacant historic building into a sustainable use and potentially support the area’s revitalisation.

“The response also states that as the works to facilitate the conversion of the property are confined to internal changes, they will have a negligible visual impact on the character and appearance of the conservation area, with no harm caused to its significance”.

For more information on the plan and council decision, visit Sunderland City Council’s planning portal website and search reference: 24/00248/PCM