COUNCIL chiefs will have to make a “judgement call” on when the time is right to put the Vaux site out for development.
That’s the view of Janet Snaith, head of Sunderland City Council’s business investment team.
She told a Sunderland Business Network meeting she understood the impatience over the site but the opportunity presented by Vaux was too important to get wrong.
“It was a very tortuous and a very long process, getting the ownership of the site in our hands,” she said.
“I think people got exasperated – but we couldn’t force Tesco to sell it to us.
“Everyone would agree that Sunderland city centre does not punch its weight – it is not big enough, it has not got enough vibrancy, it does not have enough people spending money in it.
“The Vaux site really represents the opportunity to expand the city centre around a new business district.”
A combined business and residential development would be ideal, she said.
“A lot of successful cities have people who actually live in the city centre, rather than just commuting in and out. We want to copy that, because not only will they spend money during the day, but people living in the city centre will use its facilities 24/7.”
The type of business attracted to the site would be critical, she told the meeting at E-volve Centre in Rainton Bridge.
“It is not going to be a shopping centre, it is not going to be another Bridges – what we would like to see is more high-value jobs.
“If we can get that sort of momentum going, get more people with money in their pocket, they will spend it in the city centre.”
The council could carry out work to prepare the site but would need to find a private sector partner to develop it, she said.
“It will be millions and millions of pounds - we can’t do that ourselves.”
The council would have to decide when was the right time to seek a partner. Speculative developments, such as that at Doxford, had disappeared during the recession and were only now starting to reappear in the South East but not yet the rest of the country.
“A lot is going on but it is going to be a judgement call we have to make at some point, to say ‘right, we are going to put this site on the market as a joint venture opportunity.’”