‘Washington is part of our vision’ – council chiefs pledge City Plan for all Wearsiders as Sunderland 2030 strategy approved
City leaders have promised Washington has not been left out of their vision for Sunderland’s future.
Recent years have seen regular concerns raised about the plight of the town – with Washington and Sunderland West MP likening it to “an island” and even calls from some for a “Wexit” to see Washington break away from Sunderland City Council to become “independent”.
Discussions around Sunderland’s City Plan, mapping out Wearside’s transformation into a “dynamic, healthy and vibrant city” until 2030, reignited the debate
The plan received criticism from local Lib Dems for ‘ignoring’ Washington – with claims the town is only mentioned once in the document.
Campaigners also called for a “strategic vision” for Washington as a matter of priority, including more investment and leisure facilities.
But as Sunderland City Council’s ruling cabinet rubber-stamped the plan at its latest meeting, council leader Graeme Miller – himself a Washington councillor – defended the vision.
“The city plan is about all 277,000 of our residents, Sunderland is Sunderland, Washington, Houghton and Hetton, ” he told the meeting.
“We don’t really have to do the city plan but we choose to do it because we believe it’s important that we let the people that we all work for, which is the residents, see where we’re trying to go and how we’re trying to improve their lives.
“What we’re looking to do regarding housing, health, skills and education, the built environment and everything else that sits alongside those areas.
“For us not to have a city plan would be cowardice, I think as leaders whether we’re political leaders or officers it’s imperative that we deliver documents like this.
“I think that the city plan as brought forward by the chief executive and his team is very strong and very sound and gives us a tremendous framework for our ongoing success.”
What is the City Plan?
The plan outlines how the council will address several key challenges, alongside boosting business, attracting footfall and boosting the city’s international profile.
It also sets out key aspirations and projects for Sunderland over the next 11 years, with a timeline for achieving these.
Key themes include reducing carbon emissions, improving qualifications and skills to match industries in the city, community safety and tackling health inequalities.
Chief Executive of Sunderland City Council, Patrick Melia, confirmed the council had won backing from several partners on the plan.
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This included Sunderland University, Sunderland College, Gentoo, the business sector, community sector and health organisations.
He added: “I think it is really important for the city to recognise that everyone is behind this in what we need to do.”
The plan, which is available online, sets out goals for the city under three headings – dynamic, healthy and vibrant.
Key challenges include tackling migration out of Sunderland, making the city centre an “economic motor” and growing more local businesses.
Projects in coming years include developing Sunderland’s central train station, new road infrastructure and hotels, improved walking and cycling routes and better transport links to Washington.
As previously reported, council bosses also plan to lead on a bid for the Commonwealth Games from 2034 onwards and develop the city’s status as a “centre of excellence in sport”.
'It’s just another plan unless we action on the ground’
Leader of the Conservative group on Sunderland City Council, Coun Robert Oliver, said the council needs to deliver on the plan – especially in relation to the city centre.
Speaking after the meeting, he said: “There has been £1.5billion of investment into Sunderland since 2010 but more needs to be made of it with changes on the ground at the Vaux site, the railway station and the seafront.
“Some people may dismiss the renewed city plan as just yet another plan unless they see action on the ground and the council securing the investment opportunities available.”
The plan will now go to full council for final approval before being adopted.
‘We need a strategic vision for Washington’ – what Liberal Democrats said before the meeting
Commenting on the City Plan before the cabinet meeting, Washington Lib Dem spokesman Carlton West said: “Washington is only mentioned once and it is clear the needs of our town are set to continue to play second fiddle to Sunderland city centre. Quite simply, it’s an insult which promises next to nothing for Washington residents.
“Just offering our town better transport with Sunderland City Centre in six years time is typical of this council’s thinking that if only people in Washington could get to Sunderland a bit quicker then their lives would be fulfilled.
He added: Our town deserves better than being an afterthought. We need investment, recognition that we are our own community, and better facilities for families and young people in particular.
“For years we have been promised a cinema and restaurants but they haven’t materialised.
"The council should develop a strategic vision for Washington as a matter of priority.”