Political opponents criticse new public sector plans for Sunderland’s Vaux Site

editorial image

Rival councillors have criticised plans for a public sector hub which could become the new home of Sunderland City Council.

Last year, council bosses announced plans to move Sunderland Civic Centre to the Vaux site in a bid to replace its HQ with a smaller, more cost-effective base.

The proposals are linked to ‘phase two’ of development on the Vaux site, which is being led by the council’s development partnership Siglion.

Council bosses have previously described the move as a “no brainer’ and if approved, 1,200 council employees are set to relocate and share space with public sector firms.

However, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors have criticised the plan, claiming the site should be used to attract more private sector businesses.

Leader of the Liberal Democrat and Others group, Coun Niall Hodson, has argued that the move clashes with the council’s Core Strategy and Development Plan until 2033 which is due to be examined in public this year.

“My real concern is that last year, the council finally passed its local plan which it spent a great deal of time and money putting together,” he said.

“At the centre of that local plan is the Vaux Site and the focus, they have been telling us, is that it attracts new private businesses and residents to the site.

“They subsequently changed direction in service of a public sector hub and everything about that seems to be a hasty compromise.”

He added: “They’re going back on their own plan and expecting us to just to go ahead with it.

“The whole thing seems like a desperate bid to fix the Vaux site and make the public pay for it.

“I’m not comfortable with taxpayers’ money footing the bill.”

A cabinet report, due to be discussed this week, states the ‘civic centre replacement’ is expected to cost £41.381million in capital funding, with £2.274million set aside for 2019/20.

It adds the remaining project funds of £39.1million will be spent over the following four financial years – 2020/21 to 2023/24.

Conservative councillors have claimed private investment on the site would be better for Sunderland residents than building a new civic centre.

Coun William Blackett said: “The problem with a public sector hub led by a new civic centre is that the bill comes back to the local taxpayer and the money could be spent on other priorities such as a leisure centre.

“There are also many buildings currently standing empty in the city centre -especially along Holmeside -which could be brought back to use as a multi-site civic centre.

“However, the Labour council has achieved something I previously thought nigh on impossible, they have created plans for a building even uglier than our current civic centre.

“If the council is intent on putting a new civic centre on the Vaux site to cover their failure to attract private sector investment there then they should design it in an appealing architectural style.”

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

After delays following the collapse of construction giant, Carillion, the first building on the site ‘The Beam’ is set to welcome its first tenants in April.

The flagship building offers around 60,000 sq ft of office space available with an aim of attracting private sector investment.

The wider Vaux development also aims to provide 19 buildings including office, hotel, restaurant and exhibition centre uses, parking and public realm spaces.

In recent weeks, Labour leader on the council, Graeme Miller, revealed the new civic centre building could be called the ‘City Hall and Public Sector Hub’.

In action, he explained it would make services easier to navigate for customers alongside offering commercial space.

Subject to a business case being approved, works could start on the public hub later this year.

The public can comment on the plans until Tuesday, February 26 by writing to the council or commenting on its planning portal.

Conservative councillor on Sunderland City Council, William Blackett

Leader of the Sunderland City Council’s Liberal Democrat and Others group, Coun Niall Hodson

Artist impressions of proposed public sector hub at Sunderland’s Vaux site. View from Keel square Picture: Siglion

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service