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Sunderland's Renaissance

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Published on 06 February 2023


With the buzz around Queen Bee Beyoncé arriving in the city this spring, the riverside regeneration rapidly taking shape on the Vaux site and the University’s own multi-million-pound investment in its campuses announced this week, there is clearly a lot to celebrate in Sunderland right now.

Here Professor Lawrence Bellamy, Academic Dean in the Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism at the University of Sunderland, reflects on a city not standing still when it comes to business, culture, education and health.


It’s five years since I came to the City of Sunderland, to take up my post with the University. During that time the world has changed greatly, with a global pandemic, war in Ukraine and a cost-of-living crisis. Despite these significant challenges the City of Sunderland has continued to move forward at an impressive pace.

The Sunderland City Council Core Strategy and Development plan was published in January 2020 and covered a period to 2033. An ambitious document, it addresses the challenges of health, education, poverty, business and community within its scope. I have seen such plans created previously (elsewhere) with little or no discernible progress resulting. However, Sunderland is clearly delivering to an impressive schedule. 

From my perspective, the key to unlocking Sunderland’s potential and driving improvement is the economic regeneration aspect and the Riverside Masterplan is the ‘jewel in the crown’. It seeks to drive city centre regeneration, capitalise on the potential of the river as a place to live and work alongside and link together elements on either bank in a sustainable and prosperous way. 

It's not easy attracting investment to the city, ‘outsiders’ have a view, which has been shaped by the industrial past. The investment is coming, however, and in unlocking the heart of the city the Riverside plan is delivering the Vaux site regeneration, 1,000 eco-homes, 8-10,000 jobs and bridges across the water. Household names such as Ocado are occupying offices and big investors such as Legal and General are viewing the City as a good bet for the future and so unlocking further investment opportunities. 

 My own organisation, the University of Sunderland, this week announced a £250m 10-year investment plan with the majority to be spent a little further down the river at St Peter’s Campus. It’s only with confidence that these commitments can be made. 

However, Sunderland’s advance is more than just about the Holiday Inn, Eye Hospital, (award winning) City Hall, (award winning) Fire Station Auditorium, Maker and Faber (Riverside), Culture House, the Stables at Sheepfolds, Schools, Parks, Eco-homes, bridges, a cycle network and the Smart City position (a small selection of the many projects completed and progressing). It’s really about benefiting people.

 SAFC’s renewed interest and high-profile events with stars such as Elton John and Beyoncé are welcoming people to the city who would not otherwise visit. These tourists are seeing a city displaying strong signs of renewal and regeneration, with a beautiful seafront, affordable accommodation and hospitality and they are having a great time. Sunderland’s reputation is on the rise. 

It's also the further pipeline which is so exciting, a great shopping experience inviting people to spend in a leisurely way, fueled by cappuccino and croissants and stay for a meal at one of the many high-quality outlets (including the new Keel Square line-up).

The refurbishment of city centre historical buildings to retain character and feel, but bringing them up to high aesthetic standards. The train station. Fulwell ’73 (Sunderland ‘Til I die, the Grammys, the Kardashians) and the desire for the UK’s largest TV and Film studio ‘to leave a legacy for generations to come’. 

 Galleries, museums and the theatre create a positive cultural feel (and indeed around the cultural quarter) and the growing number of professionals working in the city increases footfall, spending and generates further investment potential. The list goes on and on; Gilbridge Police Station, the Sunderland Arena and the seafront development and seafood restaurant Seaburn. Individually these projects represent interesting contributions. Collectively £1bn+ investments are a total game-changer for the city. 

Sunderland is on the up, despite the challenges of the world. The benefits of better employment prospects, increasing prosperity, sustainability, health and quality of life are far more than the bricks and mortar rising. 

The last five years have been great, the next five are likely to be even better!