Moving Sunderland Civic Centre to Vaux site a ‘no brainer’, say council chiefs as cabinet backs proposals

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Council bosses have backed proposals to move Sunderland Civic Centre to the Vaux site in a bid to replace its HQ with a smaller, more cost-effective base.

Sunderland City Council’s cabinet discussed a report recommending a move from the council’s 1970s office in Burdon Road due to rising maintenance bills.

As previously reported, the process could see its current HQ  bulldozed to make way for housing.

Two other options were originally presented alongside the Vaux move, including refurbishing the existing civic centre or moving to Holmeside.

In recent weeks, the council stated the preferred option would cost £1.4million less over 25 years than relocating to Holmeside and £4.7million cheaper than revamping the current centre.

Cabinet secretary Coun Paul Stewart, speaking at a cabinet meeting at Sunderland Civic Centre today, stressed the move was based around the building needing “significant investment” in future.

“The Vaux site also offers the best strategic investment to the council as it maximises the economic and regeneration benefits of the city as well as being the best fit from a strategic policy and planning perspective,” he said. 

“The Vaux site carries the lowest level of delivery risk and will incur minimal disruption to  service delivery and business continuity as well as offering the most affordable solution in the shortest possible time.”

Cabinet member for communities and culture, John Kelly, also said he supported the proposals which would create an “added bonus of bringing homes back into the city”.

On the civic centre, he added: “We need to do something with this building. There are parts  you can walk around and it’s like being in another world.

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“There is so much empty space up there at the moment. I never see us getting back to the levels that councils once had and I think a building of this size is no longer appropriate.”

Cabinet member for children, learning and skills, Coun Louise Farthing, added that moving to the brownfield site proposal was a “no brainer” due to its city centre location and close links to the university.

“I’m sure that by working with other public sector bodies we can create something that’s going to be a place that brings services together which will be much more convenient for citizens to visit,” she said.

“I think it’s a really exciting proposal and I’m really looking forward to its development.”

In recent weeks, the Conservative group on the council said the process should be halted until back bench councillors have had a chance scrutinise the details.

The council’s Liberal Democrat group also criticised the move, stating the Vaux site should be used to bring new businesses, workers and residents into the city centre rather than “shuffling about council offices.”

A report, presented to cabinet, stated the move would support wider regeneration of Sunderland City Centre in terms of transport, homes, retail and leisure.

A condition survey on the existing civic centre also found the building no longer conformed to modern standards and would become functionally obsolete within the next five years.

Labour leaders agreeing in principle to the move marks the next steps in the process including the development of a detailed business case for moving to the Vaux site.

Another step includes the council entering into a ‘cost indemnification agreement; with Siglion Developments linked to the development of the business case.

Siglion is the partnership between the council and now defunct Carillion, with Tolent being brought in to complete work on the Vaux site earlier this year.

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service