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SUNDERLAND CITY COUNCIL: Houghton retail park approved

SUNDERLAND CITY COUNCIL: Houghton retail park approved

Houghton Cgi Picture Credit: Hellens Group

Plans to transform a former colliery site into a huge retail development have been given the stamp of approval by Sunderland councillors.

Proposals to redevelop the Houghton Colliery site have been years in the making with Sunderland City Council’s cabinet agreeing to dispose the land to developers in 2019.

While the multi-million pound regeneration scheme has seen major changes since its inception, the final plans from applicant Hellens Land Ltd included two large units and a petrol filling station.

Retail giants Tesco and Home Bargains have been lined up as occupiers for the main buildings, with a new pedestrian connection and area of public open space planned at the south-eastern end of the site.

The filling station will be operated by Tesco, with the wider site also offering recycling facilities, a range of car parking spaces and electric vehicle charging points.

Formal proposals for the retail park were discussed at a meeting of the council’s Planning and Highways (West) Committee on Tuesday, November 30.

Planning officers, recommending the scheme for approval, noted the expected economic benefits including 100 full and part-time jobs and ‘spin-off’ employment to local businesses and others in the supply chain.

Proposed benefits from the new plans also include “clawback of expenditure which currently leaks from the Coalfields,” increased local spending and linked trips to existing businesses.

Council planners confirmed that no “sequentially preferable” sites were  available in the area and that the scheme would not have a “significant adverse impact” on the viability of nearby town centres.

During the meeting, some concerns were raised by an objector in terms of potential negative impacts on local businesses, local wildlife and increases in HGV movements.

But Gavin Cordwell-Smith, chief executive of Hellens Group, told the planning hearing that the retail scheme would regenerate a long-derelict site while helping to attract and retain shoppers within Houghton.

Councillors heard that the development of the retail park had been challenging against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, but that Tesco and Home Bargains were “legally committed” to the scheme.

Planning and Highways (West) Committee members were also supportive of the scheme, with councillor Len Lauchlan saying it would be “beneficial” for the area.

Following discussion the plans won unanimous approval from city councillors, subject to several planning conditions.

The ruling has been welcomed by local Houghton and Copt Hill city councillors, who have previously campaigned for the redevelopment of the former colliery site.

Councillor Kevin Johnston, Copt Hill ward representative and cabinet member for Dynamic City, said the plans were “great news for Houghton.”

“This is great news for Houghton – for businesses that will see a boost due to the increased footfall the new development will bring – and for local people, with new jobs created and indeed an improved retail offer for residents to enjoy,” he said.

“We have pushed for a development like this in Houghton for some time, and to see this given the green light is a massive boost for the town.”

Houghton Colliery closed in the early 1980s and the site was subsequently grassed and planted over and has remained undeveloped since.

Original plans for the site proposed a development with a discount food store, a terrace of large-format retail units, a drive-thru restaurant and smaller retail units.

However at the request of applicant Hellens Land Ltd, the development was amended to accommodate two large units and a petrol filling station.

Following planning permission, Sunderland-based company Hellens Group is expected to start works on site early in 2022.

As well as plans for the retail park, proposals for a permanent sculpture that will pay homage to the area’s mining heritage were revealed earlier this year.

Words: Chris Binding, Local Democracy Reporter


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