£100m boost for city centre vision

Legal & General, one of the world’s largest investment managers, has announced that it has backed an extensive masterplan for the regeneration of Sunderland’s city centre, after agreeing a £100m deal with Sunderland City Council.

Legal & General’s commitment will deliver three buildings on the former Vaux Brewery site and form part of the wider Riverside Sunderland regeneration project, being hailed as transformational for the local area.

Legal & General has identified the ‘vast potential’ it has seen in the council’s plans for Sunderland as the key driver for its investment and its commitment will act as a catalyst to realise the visionary plan for both sides of the Wear. It is hoped that Legal & General’s vote of confidence will accelerate the transformation of the former Vaux site and have a ripple effect into the city centre, creating a more vibrant High Street.

Led by Sunderland City Council, stunning CGIs released today show a totally reimagined riverscape, with commercial and housing developments making it virtually unrecognisable.

The investment from Legal & General seeks to deliver three new commercial buildings, comprising up to 300,000 sq ft of Grade A office space including the new Sunderland City Hall. Legal & General’s investment should act as a catalyst for wider regeneration, driving regional economic growth and job creation within Sunderland.

Nigel Wilson, CEO of Legal & General, said: “Sunderland City Council has drawn up a visionary plan for Sunderland; a city ripe for economic growth, having historically lagged behind its Northern neighbours. As seen with our other Future Cities investments in areas such as Oxford, Leeds, Bristol, Newcastle and Cardiff, a long term patient capital injection can completely transform towns and cities. This can have a direct social impact, creating real jobs and supporting real wage increases, whilst creating a virtuous circle by generating income to pay pensioners.

“This is Inclusive Capitalism at its best. We hope our investment today will accelerate regeneration plans for Sunderland, attracting further capital to support the vast potential of this city.”

Chief Executive of Sunderland City Council, Patrick Melia, said the investment represented a ‘serious vote of confidence’ in Sunderland, something that had been secured thanks to the ambition and vision of the council, which now leads on the city’s development plans having taken full control of Siglion earlier this year.

He said: “Make no mistake, today’s announcement is the single most significant investment story to come out of Sunderland for decades.

“We are absolutely delighted that the vision we have created for this city is attracting the enthusiasm, support and most importantly financial backing of one of the world’s most significant investors.

“L&G’s backing will allow us to supercharge plans to transform our city centre, creating a magnet destination that will attract more people to live, work and play here. Sunderland has been something of a sleeping giant, but it has awoken, and we’re absolutely determined to ensure this city realises every bit of its vast potential.”

Council leaders have promised there is more exciting news in the pipeline, as work moves apace on a £1.5bn programme of transformation across Sunderland.

Patrick added: “Today is a huge, huge step forward, but there’s more to come.  We are absolutely determined to create the healthy, dynamic and vibrant city our residents deserve and want to see, and we will keep building on each success, to transform Sunderland and create a place where people can be proud to live, work and do business.”

The news follows a series of positive investment announcements.  Ocado announced plans to open a base in Sunderland just weeks after work on THE BEAM had completed, and a second tenant, Penshaw View, has also taken space on the ground floor as it looks forward to expansion.  The second phase of work on the development-site has seen work on a new City Hall for Sunderland get underway.

Among other exciting new city centre developments is a 120-room Holiday Inn hotel on Keel Square; a 450-seater auditorium, that is now under construction in the city’s Minster Quarter; a new business centre, in the former River Wear Commissioners Building as well as announcements in Seaburn of a STACK development and proposals for a pub with rooms from the Inn Collection Group.

Comments from the business community:

Helen Golightly, chief executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP), said: “The development of THE BEAM which lies at the heart of this major regeneration site, was supported by grant funding of £10.8m from the Government’s Local Growth Deal.

“Today’s announcement is a fantastic boost for the city of Sunderland, and another very significant demonstration that the North East is an incredibly investible region.”

Ellen Thinnesen, chief executive of Education Partnership North East, which includes Sunderland College, and chair of Sunderland Business Partnership, said: “This is a city that is taking control of its own destiny and driving change through positive, proactive development.

“Sunderland College made a £30m+ investment in City Campus just three years ago, and during the period that’s followed, the rate of change in the city centre has been gathering pace. Today’s announcement is hugely significant and I’m thrilled to see yet-more investment flow into the city.”

Sir David Bell, vice chancellor at the University of Sunderland, said: “Sunderland needs a strong, vibrant university in order to be a successful city, and the university needs a strong, vibrant Sunderland to be an attractive destination for students and staff – there is no doubt, we are mutually dependent.

“The recent run of great announcements about the city centre are creating a very positive buzz. From the development of the auditorium to the 300 new jobs being created on the former Vaux Brewery site, Sunderland really feels like a place to do business. Add to that the university’s own investment in a medical school, which opened in September, the plan to connect both sides of the Wear with a pedestrian footbridge, and major development around Sheepfolds and the riverside to the south, then you see a totally different place emerging. In summary, a larger, more dynamic city centre where people can live, work, study and play.

“I welcome today’s announcement. It is a highly significant, and hugely positive, day for Sunderland.”

Sharon Appleby, head of business operations at Sunderland Business Improvement District, said: “The city centre is starting to look very different, and there’s no doubt that the incredible amount of investment coming in will start to bear fruit in the coming months and years.

“Today’s announcement of such a vast investment sum shows the level of confidence that is building, not only in the city, but among the investment market, who are seeing the great potential that Sunderland has.  We’re delighted and look forward to seeing the city centre district expand as more buildings rise from the ground.”

Andy Bradley, centre director at the Bridges shopping centre, said: “The Bridges is the heart of the city’s retail scene, but a strong shopping centre benefits from a strong business community close by, and ancillary leisure that people can enjoy alongside their retail experience.

“The announcement today of more investment, coming into Sunderland, is hugely welcome.  Sunderland has immense potential – everyone can see that – and this will unlock some of that.  With more commercial space close by, we will see new businesses create jobs here, bringing wealth into our city centre.  Along with plans for more housing in Sunderland, the increased spending power will bring real benefits to existing traders in the city, and will also go some way towards attracting new ones.”

Paul Swinney, a Sunderland-born economist from the Centre for Cities, said: “In recent years high paid, high skilled jobs have increasingly been looking for a city centre location. This is why improving the attractiveness of Sunderland city centre is so crucial, which is what the plans unveiled today aim to achieve.

“Sunderland needs a centre that is firing to put more money in the pockets of people who live in and around the city and to help it to make a larger contribution to the national economy too.

“And it’s only this way – by getting more jobs in the city centre – will we see an improvement in the high street too. Shops, bars and restaurants need a steady flow of customers. The development of the Vaux site will be a key part of this.”

Chris Brown from igloo, which has led regeneration programmes across the UK and is working as part of the delivery team on Riverside Sunderland, said: “This continuation of the regeneration of the former Vaux site as part of Riverside Sunderland will turbo charge the transformation of Sunderland city centre. The new jobs, and the shops and cafes they will support, will also boost the attraction of waterside city centre living in the new neighbourhood of Riverside Sunderland.”

Stewart Donald, chairman of Sunderland AFC, said: “It is fantastic to see such forward-thinking development for the former Vaux site, which is such a significant and prominent location within the city. As a club we are embedded in our local community and we have a responsibility to help this city to prosper, which we do through a really positive partnership with the city council. From this partnership we delivered an amazing concert in the summer, bringing tens of thousands of visitors into Sunderland and boosting the economy.

“Development on the Vaux site will most certainly be beneficial to the club as it will help to bring the city centre and the stadium closer together and we’re looking forward to seeing the innovative plans come to fruition.”

Kevin Ball, Sunderland AFC ambassador, said: “This is brilliant news for Sunderland. It’s great to see such a significant investment coming into the city to support a site which we have all been so keen to see developed.”

Nigel Wilson, chief executive officer at Gentoo, said: “It’s impressive, as a newcomer to the city, to see the changes afoot in Sunderland – some of which Gentoo is driving, but much of which is coming from private investors who are spotting the potential of the place.

“The cumulative effect is that Sunderland will have new and exciting places for people to live, to work and to enjoy, and that all contributes to a city that will prove more and more attractive and dynamic.  The plans announced today are very exciting, and we very much look forward to seeing them come to fruition.”

James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East England Chamber of Commerce, said: “We, in the North East, know all of Sunderland’s merits, but to attract investment on this scale today shows that the message is permeating beyond the region.

“We’re thrilled to see yet-more positivity surrounding the former Vaux site in Sunderland – it is clear that there is quite a buzz about this part of Sunderland, and that’s translating into major investment announcements that will not only boost the city but will boost the entire region.”

Adam Serfontein is managing director of Hanro Group, a North East based privately owned property investment and development group, and chair of Developing Consensus, a membership organisation that works to make the area more attractive to investors.

He said: “As part of the reinvestment strategy for The Hanro Group, which was implemented in 2017, we have made four significant acquisitions in Sunderland. We have been attracted by the investment in infrastructure, the pragmatic approach and positive attitude of Sunderland City Council, and the scope for rental and capital growth in all sectors. Our commercial portfolio in Sunderland has performed well, and we are very positive about the future.

“There is a growing sense of confidence about Sunderland, and investors – like Hanro – are responding to that positivity and proactivity.  It’s therefore no surprise that the city’s skyline is changing at such a rapid rate.”

Global grocery business, Ocado, announced plans to create 300 new jobs on Wearside earlier this year.  The first business to officially take space at THE BEAM, the business was among those who heard from Sunderland City Council and L&G, as plans for a reimagined city centre, Riverside Sunderland, were unveiled.

Debbie Wilson, head of service delivery support at Ocado Group, which will be taking two floors in THE BEAM, the flagship building on the Riverside Sunderland site, said: “We looked the length and breadth of the country in our search for a new, additional base for Ocado, and Sunderland stood out.

“The ambition of the council, the rate of change in the city, the fact that this will be the beating heart of a vibrant new district in the centre of Sunderland… There is a real buzz about our move here and today’s announcement confirms what we believed; that this is just the start of an exciting new chapter in Sunderland’s development.”

Philippa Breckon, director at Penshaw View – an expanding training provider and health and safety business which recently moved into THE BEAM – said: “There is a growing sense of ambition and momentum in Sunderland right now and we’re delighted to be part of it.

“Having spaces like THE BEAM, in the heart of the city centre, is critical to not only attracting but retaining the best businesses, and with them jobs and spending power that will boost the whole area.  As more office developments emerge – as Riverside Sunderland takes shape and the investment announced today is realised – the ready-availability of high-quality office spaces will further strengthen Sunderland’s position as a leading place for business and will ensure that companies like ours are not forced to look outside of the city as they expand.”