Tory councillor criticises Sunderland Labour leaders for ‘laughing’ at question on city hotel development delays

Coun Michael Dixon at the development site.
Coun Michael Dixon at the development site.

A Conservative councillor has criticised Sunderland Labour bosses for “laughing” at a question about construction delays on a new city centre hotel.

Coun Michael Dixon asked for an update on the construction of the four-star hotel proposed for High Street West, Keel Square, which was scheduled to start in the first quarter of 2018.

The Cairn Group-led project aims to provide a 120-room building creating 130 jobs with all funding and legal documentation currently in place.

Sunderland City Council’s (SCC) housing and regeneration head, Coun Stuart Porthouse, speaking at the authority’s full council meeting on June 20, said the start date would be “later this year”.

The meeting heard this was due to a developer review and build costs.

When asked for a “more specific” start date by Coun Dixon, SCC’s deputy leader Michael Mordey was heard saying “before December 31” with the chamber erupting in laughter.

Coun Dixon, of St Michaels ward, has since criticised the response at the Sunderland Civic Centre meeting, describing it as “really inappropriate.”

“The next thing you know people sitting around the council leader are laughing away,” he said

“When hearing of important and welcome projects being put back in Sunderland the alarm bells ring-the Vaux Site being the prime example and is only yards away from the proposed hotel.

“I’m the last person to criticise a lighter touch to discussions in the council chamber, but I asked a serious question here.

“Keel Square, next to this new hotel, and the streets surrounding, are part of a massively important area for the future economic prosperity of our city.

“Any genuine cause for concern about a stalled development should never have been the source of amusement.”

Coun Dixon added: “Indeed, when it comes to its record of city centre development on vacant sites in that locality, the Labour leadership should instead show some humility, for it has absolutely nothing to laugh about.”

Coun Porthouse responded: “It’s certainly no laughing matter when Cllr Dixon misses a point that it’s this council which has invested millions into our city and helped create the environment that is attracting investors, delayed or not.

“Because that also is (a) very serious matter – recognition that the council’s changes to the built environment in creating Keel Square, creating St Mary’s Boulevard, the landscaping improvements to the High Street, the Crowtree becoming an investment opportunity and the council’s new works improving the Minster Quarter.

“These works and improvements, initiated by the council, are helping to attract investment.

“If businesses or private investors are experiencing any ‘uncertainty’, then Cllr Dixon might want to speak to some of his national colleagues about the current climate for businesses.”

Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service