Plans to move Sunderland City Council’s HQ to the Vaux site have been branded an ‘admission of defeat’.
Cabinet backed the scheme for a new civic centre at the former brewery site last week (Wednesday, October 17).
But opponents have blasted council bosses both for the decision and the exclusion of other councillors from the process.
Coun Robert Oliver, leader of the council’s Conservative opposition, said: “This is one of the biggest developments in the City which could cost the taxpayer up to £80m and it has been decided by a small group of only Labour councillors with the usual scrutiny by councillors from all parties bypassed due to an avoidable error.
“Putting the civic centre on the Vaux site is an admission of defeat in terms of attracting private sector investment into the city centre and testament to local political wrangling that has cost the city two decades worth of business rates.
“There are plenty of unused buildings in the city centre-such as the old tax office-which could be renovated at a lower cost thus preserving the heritage of the city and leaving the Vaux site free for other businesses.”
The ‘avoidable error’ referred to by Coun Oliver was the decision to cancel a planned meeting to scrutinise the decision, ahead of the cabinet meeting.
This led to Coun Oliver demanding the process be put on hold until backbench councillors had a chance to consider the plans in greater detail.
Council leader, Councillor Graeme Miller, has previously defended the proposal, saying: “This is all about helping us to modernise the way we work so we can make sure our communities have access to the excellent services they deserve.
“It’s also about spearheading the regeneration of the city centre by investing in the landmark Vaux site.
“And it’s a further demonstration of confidence in the city, building as it does on the successful development of the MAC quarter and Keel Square.
“The current civic centre just isn’t fit for purpose.
“It’s too big now that our workforce has shrunk by 40%.
“It’s costing us upwards of £200,000 a year just to carry out essential repairs, and we’ve been told by independent assessors that the building will be functionally obsolete within the next five years.
“Building a new civic centre on the Vaux site would help lead the regeneration of the city centre, which is a priority for the council, by signalling to other developers that Sunderland is a good place to invest.
“It would also free up land for a mixed residential development to be built on the site of the current civic centre, helping generate additional footfall in the city centre.”
James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service