Official opening takes place at Sunderland's new City Hall

Sunderland’s new City Hall has been officially declared opened at a ceremony today.

Thursday, 17th March 2022, 4:15 pm
Official opening of City Hall in Sunderland with Mayor Cllr Harry Trueman.
Official opening of City Hall in Sunderland with Mayor Cllr Harry Trueman.

The new building on the former Vaux brewery site has been in use for council meetings and operations for a number of months, replacing the crumbling Civic Centre.

But school children, dignitaries, city business leaders and council staff were among the invited guests at the official ribbon-cutting event at the civic hub on Thursday, March 17.

A choir of Sunderland schoolchildren from East Herrington Primary Academy and Fulwell Junior School performed for guests, and the Mayor of Sunderland, Councillor Harry Trueman, carried out the traditional ribbon-cutting, as the 200,000 sq ft space was declared open.

Official opening of the City Hall in Sunderland. From left L & G John Godfrey, Sunderland City Council Leader Cllr Grame Miller, Sunderland Mayor and Mayoress Cllr Harry Mayoress and Dorothy Trueman with Sunderland City Council CE Patrick Melia.

The Mayor said: “Despite the challenges presented through a national pandemic over the past two years, we have not allowed this to halt our progress as a city and our resilience and determination is paying dividends with buildings such as these opening at Riverside Sunderland.

“A vital services point including housing, employment and benefits, City Hall is the city's shop window, with facilities for civic events and a marketing suite to entertain prospective investors. Its location, in the heart of the city centre, offers excellent access to all the main transport nodes with an array of high-quality retail and leisure facilities on its doorstep.

“Sunderland is a city undergoing a transformation not seen for generations, and I think I speak for the entire city when I say how excited we are to be driving this exciting journey which will deliver job opportunities and prosperity for generations to come.”

Investment firm Legal & General backed City Hall and two other Riverside Sunderland offices with £100million.

The council has started a phased return to the office for staff, with City Hall – which stands at the heart of the transforming Riverside Sunderland urban quarter – providing a ‘flexible hub’ for council officers and members.

A range of services started operating out of City Hall in late 2021, including the council’s Customer Service Centre, with public-access computers available to enable residents to make benefits applications and access other online services from the building’s open foyer.

The venue has also started to host weddings, as well as a range of other public and community events.

Other civic organisations which will use the building are housing association Gentoo Education Partnership North East and the Department for Work and Pensions will also use the building.

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, who was at the ceremonial event to see the building officially opened, said: “Many of our residents have made the switch to online services during the pandemic, so won’t yet have seen this magnificent building.

“It’s an incredible space, and one that will transform the way we support our residents when it is fully-occupied, with a wide range of services under one roof.

"We were delighted to welcome members of the public and local schools, as well as a number of our partner organisations, as we declared City Hall open and look forward to seeing this civic hub serve the people of Sunderland for years to come.”

The council has fully vacated the former Civic Centre, paving the way for its demolition, with plans afoot for the creation of a new residential community on the edge of the city centre.

City Hall was constructed by Sunderland firm Bowmer + Kirkland, which the council said ploughed millions of pounds into the local economy.

The building is one of a number of large-scale development projects progressing in the city centre, which the council said is part of an ambitious vision to double the residential population in the city centre and increase employment by 50% and fuelled by the backing of Legal & General.

Nigel Wilson, chief executive officer of Legal & General, said: “I’m a firm believer that doors lead to doors and once one opens, many more will reveal themselves. Our confidence and backing of Sunderland has certainly stimulated investor confidence in the area that is translating into genuine transformation. I’m absolutely thrilled to see the progress the city is making, and it’s exactly the affect we hoped our backing would have on the city centre.”

Patrick Melia, the council’s chief executive, said: “We’re proud to officially open this building in the presence of key partners, and, perhaps most importantly, in front of Sunderland residents and children.

“This building is for them. It is about ensuring we meet residents’ needs now and in the future, and it’s wonderful to officially declare it open and to see the reaction it gets from people who visit it.

"This is a statement of our ambition for Sunderland, and I think the fact we have a world-class place from which to support and enable our residents, speaks volumes about the council we want to be; the council we are.”

Sunderland’s Liberal Democrats, however, used the opportunity to bemoan the delays in developing the Vaux site, which stood empty for years due to wrangles with Tesco, which formerly owned the land.

They also criticised the spend on the new City Hall, and raised concerns over the cost to taxpayers of renting the premises from Legal & General.

The council said during construction, developers Bowmer & Kirkland (B&K) delivered on a range of social value commitments that ensured that City Hall made an impact even ahead of its opening.

A total of 179 weeks of work experience was delivered on site. The project enabled the upskilling of 37 workers, who completed a total of 257 weeks of training. 41 apprentices worked on the project and 28 new employment opportunities were created during construction – with available roles filled by people previously unemployed, three of whom had been out of work for over 12 months.

In total, 1,790 operatives were inducted on site, with 12% from Sunderland and 68% within the North East.

The council said local businesses benefited too. In total, over 66% of subcontractors were from within 30 miles of the site, meaning £41million was reinvested into the regional economy - 82% of the project spend.