In 2008, Sunderland City Council signed off an £800 million deal with property developer Thornfield Properties in order to redevelop the Holmeside Area of the City, widely considered an eyesore and the armpit of Wearside. The deal was radical, it proposed demolishing all the existing buildings within the Triangle space and constructing a brand new retail, office, resident and restaurant complex. The facility’s signature piece however would involve a 33 storey Skyscraper known as “The Spirit of Sunderland”- This tower was planned to be the tallest building in the North of England. Together, the plans would have radically transformed the City Centre beyond all comprehension and created 1700 jobs.
But it was not to be. First in circumstances beyond the city’s control, recession fit. The global financial crisis at the end of that year inevitably crushed property development firms, driving the chosen contractor Thornfield Properties out of business. With it, the entire deal was lost in 2009. The company who recovered its projects and investments chose to scrap the £800 million deal as it scrambled to balance the books. The council however, did not decide to pursue the project further or seek a new contractor. It was left in stasis. Then, the Conservative Government of 2010 came. David Cameron’s moves further complicated the situation by axing regional development agency OneNorthEast and its subsidiary which worked with the council and had created these plans: Sunderland ARC.
This sent the council’s local development plans into a tailspin and they would not recover from the blow until 2015. However, the loss of the Holmeside project also rested on their own incompetence. Instead of making new plans or reinvigorating old ones, the council under Paul Watson were desperate to prove they were “doing something” for the city. Then in 2014, they announced the creation of a new Sunderland College Skills Campus (shifting from Hylton) onto the prime land that was once set aside for a masterpiece development. This was essentially moving a college from one location to another, and then presenting it misleadingly as a win for Sunderland City Centre.
With it, went the dream of a skyscraper and a brand new retail space. The College has been open for a few years now. Situated next to Park Lane, it provides next to no visible or material benefits for Sunderland City Centre whatsoever. As with many proposed projects. It is a damning indignation of what could have been. The collapse of Thornfield properties did not have to ensure the end of the development, but it did because local authorities chose to do so. The Council seen more value in securing the quick fix of a relocated college for the sake of doing something on a prime space of land, than pursuing the dream of the Holmeside Triangle which would have revolutionized Sunderland. Now not surprisingly, Holmeside sits and continues to rot. That doesn’t look like it is changing any time soon.