OPINION: Is Sunderland A City of the Future

Author: Samuel Marriott-Dowding is the CEO of Sunderland based communications and PR company Marriott Communications.

As many of us have seen for ourselves, the economic impact of the UK’s lockdowns have greatly affected the retail and hospitality industries, with many high street shops having to compete against online retailers, and bars and restaurants struggling to stay afloat after nearly two years of economic instability.  

Local high street retailers are undeniably in a decline, with many shoppers favouring the convenient, and often competitively priced online retailers such as Amazon. As a result, city councils must develop innovative approaches to attract new visitors, without alienating a city or town’s existing residents. Whilst the need to adapt to the change in economic conditions is challenging, for city councils, it is also creating opportunities for dynamic transformation and the chance to diversify its local investment funds.  

Sunderland City Council’s recent unveiling of a potential £135 million investment fund is one such example of an economic adaptation – which seeks to transform Sunderland into a dynamic and vibrant hub of activity and culture.  

This fund will attempt to invest:  

  • £83m for Crowtree Place 
  • £24m on ongoing regeneration in Sunniside  
  • £4.5m of updates to city parks  
  • £2.6m for the South Hylton day centre project 
  • £200k for Arts Centre Washington  
  • £250k improvements to the Raich Carter Centre  
  • £500k for Houghton and Washington libraries  

The £135 million investment fund being outlined, further increases the council’s capital investment programme to £627 million over the next four years – an extraordinary amount signifying Sunderland’s value as a centre for culture and innovation both currently, and its potential for many years to come.  

The £83 million investment for Crowtree Place, a multi-use leisure development is estimated to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, which in turn will inevitably support Sunderland’s high street and local businesses – a much welcomed financial benefit for many retailers and business owners.  

Sunderland City Council’s diverse investment into innovative developments, combined with continued investments into current regeneration projects, successfully ensures the attraction of new visitors to the city, yet also ensures that Sunderland residents are not being forgotten in favour of these potential visitors.  

To answer the question, “Is Sunderland a city of the future?,” the answer is yes. Any town or city that is able to adapt to such challenging economic conditions with such innovation and vision, whilst also retaining the nostalgia and comfort of the high street and its local area is surely the direction where many cities and towns are headed – especially if the high street is to survive.  

For Sunderland, it is clear that this city is headed in an incredibly exciting direction, and will no doubt transform into the cultural and industrial beacon of the North East.