Sunderland city centre set for £100m investment
More than £100m could be lavished on Sunderland city centre under spending plans due to be agreed this week.
As well as a further increase in council tax bills, city bosses will be asked to approve funding for major projects including a new civic centre and improved transport links when they meet on Wednesday.
But council leader Graeme Miller has insisted it is a vital step in his ambition to double the number of people living in the city centre.
“The feedback I’ve had from residents is overwhelmingly positive about having a new city hall in Keel Square,” he said.
“Having a weak city centre is a defined reason for a city not doing well.
“We need to fix it by having a public sector hub, giving people a retail offer with shops and cafes and tying it in with 21st Century accommodation so people can live in the city centre.
“I want to double the number of people living in the city centre, that’s an integral part of what we’re doing going forward.”
There are currently about 2,500 people living in the city centre, although this figure is not thought to include students.
Jon Ritchie, the council’s executive director of corporate services, said more people living in the city could help bringing extra cash for city coffers through conventional means such as council and business rates.
But he also said there could be ‘harder to quantify’ benefits, such as the impact of more customers at nearby shops, drinkers in bars and diners in restaurants.
Coun Miller added: “It’s like dominoes – the civic centre is the first domino and having the Vaux site working properly gets everything else started.”
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If councillors approve the budget for 2019-20, families can expect council tax bills to rise by 3.99 per cent from next month.
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This would leave a band A property, which make up more than half of all homes in the city, forking out £942.45 – an extra £36.16 a year.
The council will also be asked to improve a range of other spending plans for projects in the city centre.
£55m for the third phase of the Sunderland Strategic Transport Corridor, a dual carriageway linking the city centre with the Northern Spire Bridge, which opened in August.
£41m over four years for a new ‘Civic Centre and Public Sector Hub’ at the former Vaux Brewery site
£21m over four years for works on the Sunderland Museum, the Winter Gardens and the Central Library.
£460,000 to boost the council’s environmental services budget, including plans for a ‘deep clean’ of the city centre
The council’s budget for 2019/20, including provision of services and one-off projects, totals more than £650m.
Since 2010 the local authority has seen about £293m wiped off its books due to government austerity.
Other schemes due to get funding include £61m for the council’s flagship International Advanced Manufacturing Plant (IAMP), £4.9m for a new Willow Fields Primary School and £15m for roads and bridge maintenance.
James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporting Service