CITY chiefs fielded questions on Sunderland’s future at an annual public debate.
Voters were given the chance to quiz Sunderland City Council chiefs and other officials at the State of the City event.
Council leader Paul Watson was joined on the panel by Harry Collinson, chair of Sunderland City Centre Traders’ Association, and Gary Hutchinson, chair of the North East Chamber of Commerce Sunderland Committee.
Others facing the questions were Northumbria Police’s Chief Superintendent Kay Blyth, Dr Dave Smith, chief executive of the city council, Dr Ian Pattison, chair of Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group and Peter Wallis, Gentoo’s chief executive. The theme of the 12th annual debate, hosted by Mark Denten, the BBC’s political correspondent for the North East and Cumbria, was the local economy.
The panel took questions on the state of the city centre, plans to improve Sunderland’s seafront, the ongoing development of the Vaux site, the city’s economy and the fate of iconic bridge over the River Wear.
Before the event, Wearsiders had been asked to vote for their top three questions on the council’s website.
People opted to grill the panel over plans to revitalise the city centre, the Vaux site and the future of the landmark bridge over the Wear. Dr Smith called on residents to back their city.
He said: “The single factor we have to address is that the city centre economy is absolutely dependent on the amout of people who visit the city centre and, most critically of all, spend money in the city centre.
“The most critical issue of all for the council and its partners is to encourage as many people as possible to come into the city centre and spend their hard-earned money.”
But Michael Gray, from Thornhill, said a second department store was needed to stop over-50s leaving the city to do their shopping.
Youngsters were also among the 300 people who took part in the debate at the Seaburn Centre.
Connor, from Hall Farm, wanted the council to spend more money on youth groups. He said: “I volunteer for the Box Youth Project and we used to be open all week, but now we are only open three days a week.
“What is the council’s commitment to the future of youth clubs?”
Coun Watson said: “The £100 million saving we have made has had an impact on all sorts of youth provision.
“We do everything we can to keep the provision, because of the passionate people who do what they do.”
Speaking after the event, he said: “People have been pretty passionate about all these issues and we have recorded everything, we’ve got all the questions down, we’ve got all the suggestions down and we will make sure these are fed into the decision-making process of the council.”