Confidence may be in short supply in towns and cities across the country, given the uncertainty we face as we move through the latest national lockdown. But in Sunderland, confidence remains high.
Last year was a gruelling one for UK high streets. But places with vision – as we have in Sunderland – are poised to emerge from this crisis on the front foot, having continued to build momentum that will spur on their resurgence long after the pandemic has passed.
Less than six months before Covid hit UK shores, Sunderland announced a game-changing £100m investment commitment from Legal & General to our Riverside Sunderland development, which will create a new urban quarter in the heart of the city.
It followed Ocado’s arrival in 2019 at The Beam – the first building constructed as part of Riverside Sunderland – a huge coup following the online grocer’s national search for a customer service base.
Legal & General’s backing will help transform the Riverside Sunderland site from barren land into a vibrant hotbed of business that also features a modern, urban residential community with ultra-sustainable homes and offers an extension of the leisure offer in the heart of the city. Our positivity and proactivity, even in the face of the pandemic, continue to drive things forward.
When a city attracts the attention of one of the world’s largest investment managers, it creates a buzz of confidence that sends ripples through the investment world. Very quickly we saw Legal & General’s commitment to Sunderland draw interest from investors and end-users. We’ve capitalised on that, ensuring that the confidence they’ve shown in the city becomes a genuine catalyst for change.
A new hotel is now taking shape on the site – a £16m investment from Cairn Group to create a 120-bed Holiday Inn – as well as a music and performance venue capable of holding more than 400 people.
We have seen the public realm in the shadow of our stunning Minster transformed. Investors have snapped up older buildings such as Gilbridge, a former police station, and the historic River Wear Commissioners Building, to transform them into business hubs, and new life is being breathed into city landmarks such as Elephant Tearooms and Mackie’s Corner, creating new retail and leisure venues.
The latest step forward for Riverside Sunderland was an announcement on Christmas Day of a £25m grant from the Future High Streets Fund, allowing us to take forward a number of critical projects that will build upon Legal & General’s support. Sunderland was one of just two cities to secure the maximum possible funding allocation – a huge vote of confidence in the city.
As a local authority that sets the tone for the city, we are sending signals to the market that are positive, ambitious and confident. We are clear that our city centre must become an economic motor for Sunderland.
We’re creating places for businesses to succeed, the digital connectivity to ensure they are plugged into the world at super speed, the physical connectivity to ensure they can quickly reach their markets and the ultra-sustainable homes and the leisure venues that will allow their skilled teams to lead happy, healthy lives.
We have a plan and the investment to deliver it. We are creating the conditions to ensure that those who come with us on a journey to re-energise Riverside Sunderland are richly rewarded.
Peter McIntyre is executive director of city development at Sunderland City Council