Regeneration - Sunderland's Sunniside Quarter and Berwick-upon-Tweed's Quayside

Sunderland's Sunniside Quarter and Berwick-upon-Tweed's Quayside are two of the region's once-bustling but latterly-neglected areas to be lined up for regeneration.

Bright outlook for Sunniside

On the eastern fringes of Sunderland city centre, Sunniside used to be the place to live and work in the Wearside capital.

Once renowned for its vibrant cultural scenes, many historic and prominent buildings and public spaces became neglected as people moved out of the area.

It is now part of a £130m regeneration project to revive the heart of the city centre during 12 years.

The 43-acre area covered by the Sunniside project contains approximately 600 buildings, 160 of which are listed.

Now a variety of projects are boosting the cultural and creative attractiveness of Sunniside - and the area is well and truly on the up.

It will be home to a new £6m business and arts centre, which could bring up to 150 jobs to the historic heart of Sunderland.

The centre will comprise the redeveloped Manor Hotel in Athenaeum Street and six adjoining Grade II-listed properties in West Sunniside, overlooking Sunniside Gardens.

It will provide a much-needed community facility and will incorporate performance space, an art gallery and exhibition space, a café, meeting rooms and a range of business suites and artists' studios.

The needs of businesses have not been overlooked.

Once a popular 1960s social club, and the home of the Durham Light Infantry, the former dilapidated snooker club is getting a £1.5m make-over, resulting in a new concept of fully-serviced offices, suites and meeting and conferencing facilities.

And at the corner of Norfolk and Coronation streets, Argent Business and Conference Centre opened in June.

It includes two floors of offices, an 180-seat conference centre and ground- level bistro-restaurant. Developer Mick Thurlbeck says the new business centre will meet a desperate need for new business facilities in close proximity to the city centre.

He said: "I am told inquiries for office accommodation in Sunderland is averaging between 130 and 140 a month.

"Argent will help meet this demand, while providing high-quality meeting and conference venues in the heart of the city centre."

He said the office accommodation will herald a higher level of serviced office provision on Wearside.

"What is exciting is that all the partners are Sunderland people, who, through our various jobs, have experienced serviced office accommodation around the world," he said.

"Only we aim to raise the concept to a new level at Argent and do it better than anyone previously."

The landlord will provide office tenants with IT support to the extent of preparing presentations and databases on their behalf, office administration and secretarial duties, accountancy and payroll.

Support in organising meetings, business travel, catering, customer service, and even sales support will also be provided.

"There will literally be nothing we can't reasonably do for our tenants - leaving them free to focus on their core business," said Mr Thurlbeck.

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Berwick keen to prove it's still worth fighting for

Berwick, on the north bank at the mouth of the River Tweed, has the distinction of being the most fought-over town in the Borders region, changing hands no less than 14 times between the 12th and the 13th Centuries.

The Northumberland town's position as a English town - despite its local football team's presence in the modern day Scottish League - was finally resolved by its capture by the English army in 1482.

However, the historic walled town of 26,000 has not been fought over with the same vigour by property developers in recent times.

Despite one of the largest property booms in recent times in the past few years, developers have been slow to bring forward developments in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

A shortage of business accommodation in the town led Berwick Council to complete £2.4m of infrastructure works next to the A1 north of the town at North Road Industrial Estate last June.

The works, which have been funded by regional development agency One NorthEast and the European Union's regional development grant, will support several hundred thousand square feet of office and light industrial space to be built at the 1970s business park over the next five to 10 years.

The business park's expansion will complement another 30 `starter' units for small businesses, each of a couple of hundred square feet, planned for the town centre.

However, these small business units aside, developments in the town centre and on its historic quayside have been even more rare, despite no shortage of land standing derelict and ripe for the attention of developers' bulldozers and cranes.

Plans for residential development on Berwick quayside, the like of which has become a feature of the estuaries of Newcastle and Sunderland, have only come to light in recent months as house prices have belatedly begun an upwards march.

Recent figures released by the Land Registry show house prices increased by an average 37% from £126,327 to £167,654 in the last 12 months.

With direct road and rail links to Edinburgh, commuters from the Scottish capital have been eagerly snapping up properties.

The rise in house prices has happily coincided with plans by Royal Carlton Estates for 39 flats, four houses and five retail units totaling 32,000sqft, which will include linked public squares opening onto the quay and town wall.

The houses and apartments are expected to range in price from £150,000 to £300,000.

Project architects Newcastle-based Waring and Netts, Berwick Council, English Heritage and other interested parties have been participating in a public exhibition of the plans for the redevelopment of the prime quayside which has been derelict for 20 years.

Roger Emmerson, group leader and project architect for the scheme, said: "We have attempted to provide permeability through the development, so that sections of the town wall will be visible when moving up or down the river or driving along the Tweedmouth side.

"Although the local community has become used to a continuous view of the walls at that point, there is already a history of development on the quayside and the council recognises that.

"We are also encouraging the council to look positively at its own landholding in that area, particularly with regard to providing car parking.

"Our experience is that there will always be a percentage of people who will resist any development, but our overriding aim is to try to find common ground between the demands of the market and what the local community thinks is appropriate for the site."

While high price housing might be good for lining the pockets of developers, some in the community are wary of ceding control of prime locations to high-priced developments.

But council leader John Stephenson recently said the rise in property prices is "not necessarily a good thing" and could leave first-time buyers and key workers frustrated.

Recent research showed the borough has the region's lowest average wage, at £288 per week.

Coun Stephenson said: "Berwick is one of the nicest places to live in the country, but there are concerns about younger people and the availability of affordable housing."


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer