Holocaust tributes, alcohol pricing and the future of Sunderland - round-up of key debates from full council

A row over complimentary Empire Theatre tickets for councillors dominated another fractious meeting of Sunderland City Council.

Thursday, 30th January 2020, 5:25 pm
Updated Thursday, 30th January 2020, 5:45 pm
Sunderland Civic Centre

The debate was sparked by the Liberal Democrat group launching a motion calling for the arrangement to be scrapped.

Although Labour leaders said no tickets had been claimed since June 2019, councillors passed an amended motion to continue to “respectfully decline” tickets until the theatre contract is reviewed.

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The motion also agreed that any future contract would remove provision for complimentary tickets.

However, the dispute was only a small part of the debate at Sunderland Civic Centre, with the meeting stretching to more than five hours.

Highlights included:

Holocaust Memorial Day tributes

Earlier this week, Sunderland Libraries Services launched a series of events for Holocaust Memorial Day.

The programme marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and involves talks and presentations to schools and community groups.

A motion, launched by the Conservative group this week, praised the “untiring efforts” of children and adults across Sunderland who have helped commemorate the day.

This included remembering the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust under Nazi persecution and in genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

Councillors across political divides spoke passionately about learning from the past, fighting racism and discrimination and the importance of survivors passing on their stories.

Conservative councillor, Michael Dixon thanked the efforts of Sunderland residents for “keeping the memories of the horrors of the past alive in the minds of us all, young and not so young.”

Libraries Services events will continue until Saturday, March 23.

City’s ‘blueprint for the future’ approved

A major planning document setting out future development in Sunderland has been given the green light.

Sunderland’s Core Strategy and Development Plan, or ‘local plan’, sets out a vision to support 7,000 new jobs and provide 13,410 homes by 2033.

The plans previously sparked criticism for marking green belt land up for housing – with several sites scrapped following public feedback and a hearing led by an independent planning inspector.

Opposition groups Liberal Democrats and Conservatives indicated they would be voting against the plan.

Labour councillor, Anne Lawson, added she would be opposing the plan over proposals to build 400 homes on land near Penshaw Monument.

Green Party councillor, Dom Armstrong, raised concerns about building on green belt sites and said the plan failed to take into account climate change.

“The consultation document for the plan doesn’t address climate change because we’re still working on a dead concept of growth rather than reigning in our expansion,” he said.

Following debate, councillors agreed to adopt the plan with 36 votes in favour, 23 against and two abstentions.

Alcohol plan could ‘save lives’

Councillors agreed to lobby government to raise the minimum price of cheap booze in a bid to save lives on Wearside.

Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) was introduced in Scotland in 2018 and aims to reduce the availability, affordability and acessibility of high strength alcohol.

This includes setting a minimum price of ’50p per unit’.

As similar plans are being introduced in Wales and considered in the Republic of Ireland, the council’s Labour group called for England to follow suit.

The meeting heard alcohol was one of the key drivers of health inequalities and premature death in Sunderland.

Lib Dem councillor, Stephen O’Brien, said MUP was “regressive” and would force people on lower incomes to pay more.

Conservatives also questioned evidence around the effectiveness of MUP, while others said the focus should be around alcohol prevention and higher taxes.

Labour’s Coun Kelly Chequer admitted MUP was not a “magic bullet” but could have real impact in Sunderland, according to new research.

This includes preventing 270 deaths over the next 20 years, slashing hospital admissions by 415 every year and saving the NHS around £1million annually.

The motion was passed with 40 votes in favour, 18 against and 1 abstention.

No cost to council to build new City Hall

Plans to build a new HQ on Sunderland’s Vaux site will have no direct cost to the council, city leaders have confirmed.

Last year, it was revealed investment group Legal & General had pledged a huge £100million investment towards commercial buildings on the site.

As a result, there will be no ‘direct cost’ to the council for the construction of the City Hall, which will be leased to the council when completed.

The building will be shared by the council and other public sector partners including Gentoo and the Department for Work and Pensions.

The update was revealed by council leader, Coun Graeme Miller, in response to a tabled question.

Works on the £42million project are due to wrap up in Autumn 2021.