A transformational plan to breathe new life into Sunderland city centre could attract investment of close to half a billion pounds by 2030.
Spearheaded by Sunderland City Council, a vision is emerging for a reinvigorated city centre, that will build on the momentum of VAUX and transform the heart of the city into a place that civic bosses say will become the 'economic and cultural driver' that Sunderland deserves.
With the council's City Hall plans to be discussed in a Cabinet meeting this week (Wednesday, March 27), the emerging city centre vision outlines how council investment will act as a catalyst to attract private sector investment. It is expected that the total council investment in the city centre in the 15-year period to 2030 will be eclipsed by private sector investment of close to £300m, with the local authority's own spending on the city stimulating market confidence to attract businesses and investors.
Council Leader Councillor Graeme Miller, said: "We want the city centre to be a place our residents can be proud of, as well as somewhere that people want to live, work and spend time in.
"A declining high street - that reflects the same challenges faced by towns and cities across the country - has left Sunderland in need of investment and though we are seeing green shoots of revival, we have to fast-track the city centre's transformation.
"We will stimulate confidence in the market by taking brave and bold decisions - decisions like investing in VAUX, and making it as easy as possible for investors to follow suit. We have to be ambitious for Sunderland city centre. We're developing a vision that is just that - that capitalises on investment to date, and attracts more.
"City centres have to adapt and diversify if they're going to survive and this is all about breathing new life into heart of our city and giving it a renewed sense of purpose and vitality."
Though full details of the city centre vision are yet to be released, the council is working up a programme of plans that it hopes to deliver with private sector investors, covering:
• More and better homes in the city centre, with new housing planned for the Vaux site
• A stronger food and drink offer to enjoy, as well as activity-based businesses providing activities to complement the retail offer, with more details expected to follow within weeks
• A new riverside crossing to better connect the Stadium to the city centre, an improved railway station on the current site, improved road links into the city delivered as part of SSTC3 and better linkage between the city centre and the riverside
• A cleaner city, with an additional funding committed to frontline services to create a cleaner, greener city
• The ongoing regeneration of historic buildings in the Heritage Action Zone along Fawcett Street, High Street West and High Street East.
Councillor Miller added: "We have driven significant investment into Sunderland city centre over the last five years, laying solid foundations for the next ten years to 2030. Some of the contents of the emerging city centre vision is work in progress, but we're looking at a number of really exciting projects that will be made public over the coming weeks and months - projects that will signal to developers that Sunderland is a good place to invest, and to businesses that this is a place they can succeed.
"Progress on the vision is already well underway, with THE BEAM - the first building on the VAUX site - due to open within weeks. And with City Hall plans well-developed, there is momentum building. As our vision is delivered, it will be game-changing for the city centre.
"It is essential that we get more people living and working in the city centre in quality jobs, because only by bringing more people into the city can we hope to create the footfall and spending that we need to sustain our shops, restaurants and bars and create a lively evening economy."
The city centre vision fits into a wider city programme of investment of more than £1.5bn, and is at the heart of a new plan, led by the city council, to create a vibrant, dynamic, healthy city by 2030.