One of the world’s leading investment management companies is backing a vision for the regeneration of Sunderland city centre. PETER BARRON assesses the impact of the £100m deal


AS a man with his roots firmly embedded in the region, Patrick Melia has a passionate belief in the potential of the North-East.

Born in Jarrow, Patrick rose through the public sector ranks to become Chief Executive of North Tyneside Council, and his impressive track record includes the successful rebirth of Whitley Bay’s iconic Spanish City attraction.

Now, having returned to the south of the River Wear as Chief Executive of Sunderland City Council, Patrick is relishing the opportunity of waking up what he describes as “something of a sleeping giant”.

And the announcement that Legal & General – one of the world’s largest investment managers – is backing an extensive masterplan for the regeneration of the city centre is viewed as “a serious vote of confidence”.

Having agreed a £100m deal with the local authority, Legal & General 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.

Patrick says the investment 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. 

“Make no mistake, this announcement is the single most significant investment story to come out of Sunderland for decades,” he says.

“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. 

“Legal & General’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.”

The investment from Legal & General will 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, creating regional economic growth and jobs.

Nigel Wilson, CEO of Legal & General, firmly believes the company’s investment will accelerate regeneration plans for Sunderland, attracting further capital.

“Sunderland City Council has drawn up a visionary plan for Sunderland; a city ripe for economic growth, having historically lagged behind its Northern neighbours,” he says. “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.”

The investment has also been welcomed by regional business leaders, with Helen Golightly, chief executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (North East LEP), describing the investment as “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, adds: “This is a city that is taking control of its own destiny and driving change through positive, proactive development.” 

And Stewart Donald, chairman of Sunderland AFC, is another leading figure who believes the investment will help the city achieve its ambitious goals. “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,” he says. “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.”

It is, of course, all music to the ears of Patrick Melia who has promised there is more exciting news in the pipeline, as work moves apace on a £1.5bn programme of transformation across Sunderland. 

“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,” says Patrick.

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 which will stand opposite Gilbridge House, the home of Hays Travel’s growing team; 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. 

As 2020 approaches, the sleeping giant of Sunderland is not only wide awake…but striding boldly into an exciting future.