£61million plans to create new Sunderland City Council HQ and public sector hub on Vaux site approved by senior councillors

Ambitious £61million plans to move Sunderland Civic Center to a smaller base on the Vaux site - to be shared with other organisations - have been approved by senior councillors.

By Ross Robertson
Wednesday, 27 March, 2019, 15:05

Members of Sunderland's ruling cabinet members approved the business case for moving the city council's HQ to the key development site at a meeting this afternoon.

Council chiefs said the move offered "the best strategic investment" for both the council and the city as a whole by "maximising both the economic and regenerative benefits for Sunderland".

An artist's impression of new public sector hub at Vaux site view from Keel Square

The council said as well as creating a more cost-effective base for the local authority, the move will also help spearhead the regeneration of the Vaux site by signalling to potential investors that the city centre is an excellent place to set up shop.

Councillor leader Graeme Miller said: "This is a major step forward for the plans which are crucial to the regeneration of the city centre. Building a new base on the landmark Vaux site is a mark of confidence to other investors, signalling to private sector developers that Sunderland is a good place to invest.

"But, this is also about improving services for our residents and making it much easier for them to get the advice and support that they need by providing seamless services from birth right through to later life from a range of public services housed under one roof.

"Modernising the way we work is essential if we want our communities to have the excellent services they deserve.

He added: "This move represents the most cost effective, quickest and most beneficial move in terms of helping the city centre and it will free up the current civic centre site for new homes helping generate extra footfall in the city centre."

The project is part of a £500million investment programme for the city centre in the 15 year period to 2030, which civic leaders say will "pave the way for a city centre Sunderland can be proud of".

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The emerging city centre vision includes the development of a new railway station on its current site, a new footbridge connecting the city centre to the stadium, new homes along the riverside and on the current civic centre site, and more retail and leisure opportunities.

The new building will take the form of two office blocks fronting onto Keel Square linked by a central atrium which will also act as a public thoroughfare making it easier for people to access services.

The council says the move will also unlock the potential, in the longer term, for the current civic centre site which could be redeveloped for housing in line with the emerging city centre vision and wider city plan for the regeneration of Sunderland, which aims to establish the city centre as an economic and cultural driving force.

Councillors heard plans for the new building have evolved since October's cabinet meeting. Rather than just providing a new base for 1,200 council staff, it is now aiming to bring together a range of public sector partners under one roof allowing closer working and integration with key partner organisations.

This will see the council sharing office space with a number of public sector partners, making it much easier for people to navigate public services.

Staff from eight locations across the city brought together under one roof for the first time will include the Customer Service Network, Revenues and Benefits, Housing Options, Births, Deaths and Marriages, the Coroner’s Office, Social Care Financial Assessment and Financial Safeguarding.

The decision by a number of partner agencies to take space in the new building has resulted in it increasing in size by a third, a figure reflected in the revised £61million cost of the scheme.

However, the overall cost impact to the council remains the same as it will be offset by the rental income from space occupied by third parties.

Council chiefs said overall the project is set to deliver net operational savings of more than £22million over 25 years, compared with staying in the current civic centre which is set to become obsolete in the next five years.

Subject to planning approval, the plans will see construction beginning on site later this year, with an estimated completion date of 2021.