New £61 million Sunderland council HQ on Vaux site gets green light

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Councillors have approved plans for a new headquarters and public sector hub on Sunderland’s Vaux site.

Last year, Sunderland City Council announced plans to replace their current HQ, off Burdon Road, with a smaller, more cost-effective base.

The planned move involves 1,200 council staff relocating and sharing space with public sector partners at the new site.

Following the approval of a business case by cabinet last week, a final decision was made today (April 1) by the the council’s area Development Control Sub-Committee.

A report, drafted by planning officers, painted a positive picture of the scheme noting that the benefits outweigh any negative impacts.

Under the plans, the building will include various ‘energy saving measures’ including specialist lighting, lifts, ventilation and the potential for eco-friendly heating.

The hub’s ground floor is set to host customer service points, a cafe and a ‘debating chamber’ while other floors will provide office space.

And the designs aim to take inspiration from historic buildings in the nearby Bishopwearmouth Conservation Area.

Despite concerns from some councillors, the plans were given the go-ahead with work expected to start on site later this year.

But Coun Alex Scullion, speaking at Sunderland Civic Centre, raised concerns about the design, describing it as “almost brutalist”.

“I just think for a significant site like that, we perhaps might have wanted to go a little bit further out and be more ambitious with it,” he said.

“It’s going to be a significant building and it’s not unlike buildings that we’re seeing knocked down nowadays that haven’t stayed the course.”

The proposals are linked to ‘phase two’ of wider development plans for the Vaux site led by the council’s development partner, Siglion.

Director of planning firm Cundall, Ian Cansfield, speaking on behalf of Siglion, said the building was created with “sustainability and high quality design at its core.”

He added:“Overall there are no issues associated with the development which would prevent its approval.

“The benefits of the application will provide the provision of high quality business space and continued regeneration of the Vaux site.”

City leaders have said the project is set to deliver net operational savings of more than £22million over 25 years compared with the council staying in the current civic centre – which is set to become obsolete in the next five years.

Increased demand from partners to take space in the building has also seen its size increase by a third – reflected in a revised £61million cost.

However, council bosses insist this cost impact will be offset from rental income generated from commercial space in the building.

Following discussion, the plans were carried by a majority vote with Conservative councillor, Michael Dixon, voting against the plans.

Speaking after the meeting, he said: “The basis of my voting against the application was my opposition to the building being used as the future civic centre.

“This was patently the clear intention as in part of the application were the words ‘civic related uses’-with the council chamber design included.

“Away from this specific proposed use, others which included a medical centre, creches and café/restaurants, I would have been able to support.”

In recent months, Sunderland’s opposition councillors have raised concerns about the public sector hub plans, arguing the plots should be used to attract more private sector firms to the Vaux site.

Lib Dem councillor, Stephen O’Brien, has also claimed the policy clashes with the council’s Core Strategy and Development Plan until 2033.

Speaking after the meeting, he accused council bosses of “selling a mistruth” over plans to attract more private businesses to the site.

He added: “If you’re going to build a public sector building, I don’t know why you can’t be more ambitious and make it iconic.

“We have grey municipal buildings, why not make it something out of the ordinary with a bit more panache.”

The Vaux Brewery closed in 1999 bringing more than 150 years of brewing history to an end in the region.

After remaining dormant for almost two decades, planning permission was granted for the  £20million office space on the site, The Beam, which is set to welcome its first tenants this year.

Plans for the wider Vaux development also include office, hotel, restaurant and exhibition centre uses, parking and public realm spaces.

Work on the new public sector hub is expected to be completed by 2021.

Planning approval for the public sector hub includes.

The erection of of a 18,075sqm business hub (six and seven storey buildings connected by a glass atrium.

Civic related uses and office space

Medical centre

A creche

Cafe/ restaurant

Roof terrace

A road link to Cumberland Street

Ancillary buildings, infrastructure and landscaping.

Caption: Artist impressions of new Sunderland City Council HQ and public sector hub on Vaux site. Pictures: Siglion

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service