Plans for major housing development on dated Sunderland Civic Centre site move step forward

Council chiefs have agreed the next steps for the future of Sunderland Civic Centre, as plans progress for a major housing development on the site.

Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 9:57 pm
Sunderland Civic Centre
Sunderland Civic Centre

In March 2021, Sunderland City Council’s ruling cabinet agreed to dispose of the freehold interest in the property to Vistry Partnerships Limited (Vistry) with a price and detailed terms to be agreed.

This formed part of plans to move staff from the council’s ageing 1970s base off Burdon Road to the purpose-built City Hall at Riverside Sunderland.

As part of an update on the disposal of the civic centre site this week, senior councillors were asked to authorise its “appropriation for planning purposes.”

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The move involves formally changing the status of the land as developers press ahead with proposals for a residential neighbourhood offering around 275 homes.

According to a report prepared for councillors, the local authority has already “commenced winding down its operations at the [civic centre] and the transition to those operations being delivered elsewhere.”

The report also confirms that “contracts are soon to be exchanged with Vistry,” which is currently preparing to submit a planning application for a new residential community next month.

It adds that the civic centre “no longer has an operational requirement” and its “timely disposal” would allow redevelopment and “reduce the council’s risk and ongoing maintenance costs.”

Councillor Kevin Johnston, cabinet member for Dynamic City, introduced a report on the matter at Tuesday’s (July 13) cabinet meeting, which was held in the civic centre’s council chamber.

He said: “Where the current use is no longer required, the council may appropriate land for planning purposes where the redevelopment would result in the improvement of the social, economic and environmental wellbeing and the proper planning of the area.

“In this case, the appropriation of the property would provide increased confidence in the delivery of a high-quality residential scheme that meets the provisions of the Allocations and Designations Plan and supports wider regeneration of the city centre.”

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, also welcomed the report and said appropriation was “clearly a necessary step on what the next use of [the civic centre] site is as we move to City Hall.”

The report for cabinet also set out the reasons behind the appropriation of the property for planning purposes.

It reads: “Subject to the grant of planning permission, it will enable the council and its successors in title to override any private third-party rights that may restrict the redevelopment of the property and provide greater certainty of delivery.”

In addition, the move would also allow the council to “consider the potential extinguishment of public rights of way over the property.”

Disposing the civic centre buildings and site to Vistry is expected to generate a capital receipt to the council after taking into account any agreed “abnormal costs” linked to the site.

The cabinet report adds that the “significant public benefits of redeveloping the property far outweigh any potential third-party loss which can be adequately remedied via compensation.”

It goes on to say that “compensation payable in relation to any overriding of private interests in the property which follows appropriation will be negligible.”

Cllr Johnston confirmed site investigations and pre-demolition survey works are being completed and a pre-application submission for housing has been submitted to the council’s planning authority.

A full planning application is due to be lodged in August and if approved, demolition and phased development of the civic centre site could start in early 2022, with completion of the full scheme anticipated in 2027.

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