Back in 2021, it was revealed that East Boldon deli Blacks Corner were working up proposals for the heritage landmark.
The speciality eatery is the proposed tenant for the shelter – one of three historic buildings being revamped as part of investment from Sunderland City Council and The Coastal Communities Fund.
Plans to change the use of the Seaburn Tram Shelter to a café were granted back in 2019 – however the building was granted listed building status the following year.
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This included the removal of internal partitions and seating, restoring the fish-scale roof and cast-iron pillars, erecting glazed timber panels to enclose the building and various other works.
Residents have previously raised concerns about the change of use of the shelter, with thousands signing a petition in opposition.
At a meeting of the council’s Planning and Highways (East) Committee on Wednesday, January 5, councillors voted unanimously to grant listed building consent for the café conversion works.
According to a presentation to the panel, more than 30 representations were submitted to the council during public consultation including 27 offering support for the proposals and six opposing the scheme.
Objectors speaking at the meeting said they had no issues with the proposed occupier Blacks Corner.
However they raised concerns about the impact on Sunderland’s heritage and the loss of a free public shelter which functions as a “safe haven” for residents and visitors.
Critics also claimed the council had allowed the listed structure to “deteriorate” and had not explored alternative ideas or sources of funding to keep the shelter as it stands and maintain it in the future.
Meanwhile, comments from supporters claimed the plans would “uplift the heritage value of the building” and “breathe new life” into it, as well as boosting footfall to the area and helping to reduce antisocial behaviour.
Jonathan Dryden, co-founder of Blacks Corner, told councillors the eatery “had the potential to be nationally recognised” and that Blacks Corner would be striving for a Rosette Rating for its use of British produce.
Mr Dryden told the meeting: “Our proposal guarantees a future for the tram shelter and preserves the historic integrity of the building and would immediately provide a complete turnkey project from design to build and operation.
“If Blacks Corner isn’t here in 100 years time, the building will be safe in the hands of the Sunderland Seafront Trust, complete with a restoration that will last another 100 years after that.”
Although some councillors said they were “conflicted” on the proposed works to the listed building, they said they had confidence in Blacks Corner as the new custodian of the shelter.
Councillor Niall Hodson added there was a “danger the building would get more and more derelict” without the proposals.
“We can’t pass this [renovation] cost onto council taxpayers,” he said.
“If there’s an opportunity to bring in external private investment to improve the building and keep it standing for future generations, I think that’s a positive move.”
Councillor Michael Dixon added the council could have “done a lot better” in maintaining the tram shelter since its listing and criticised its current condition.
But he said that he trusted the prospective occupiers Blacks Corner to restore the building sensitively and involve the community going forward.
Cllr Dixon went on to say: “I’m trusting the words of what the new prospective occupiers have said, what is written in the planning report and that the development will be checked as the building goes on and what has been said about publicity and history.
“I’m going to support this but I do hope that the trust given tonight is justified in the future.”
Following discussion, councillors on the Planning and Highways (East) Committee approved the application in line with recommendations of planning officers.
Blacks Corner, which already operates a high-quality eatery and wine bar in South Tyneside, champions local and home-grown British farm produce through its menu of cheese and charcuterie.
The new occupier has committed to working with the community to ensure the shelter becomes a focal point and meeting place for residents and visitors, as well as paying tribute to the building’s heritage.
Comments from the County Archaeologist, included in a planning committee report, say the tram shelter is “considered to be rare in a national context as it remains a largely intact example of an early 20th century tram shelter.”
The tram shelter is also classed as “historically important” due to its “connection to tram-era public transport in Sunderland and the role of this transport network during the heyday of the English seaside.”
Blacks Corner bosses confirmed they were exploring ideas for a ‘history wall’ on one of the building’s elevations and hoped to work with the local community to “pull in old photographs and make something really special.”
The income from the building lease will also support the Sunderland Seafront Trust, which operates the Roker Pier and Lighthouse tours, and the new income will help it to organise a range of seafront events and activities.
Councillor Kevin Johnston, cabinet member for Dynamic City, welcomed the planning decision.
Speaking after the meeting, he said: “Our heritage buildings are important parts of our seaside and we want to preserve the best parts of them, but return them to a modern-day use that will ensure that Seaburn and Roker grow their reputation as attractive places to visit and enjoy.
“I’m delighted that can now happen, with approval of the listed building application, which was the final step towards a bright new future for this important building.”