CGIs of how the ultra-sustainable developments could look

New connections are set to take shape in Sunderland as part of a major regeneration project that will reawaken forgotten parts of the city riverside. 

Digital and physical connectivity – including Gill Bridge at Galleys Gill – are both earmarked for improvements, in proposals submitted in a planning application as part of the Riverside Sunderland regeneration project. 

Sunderland City Council has been awarded £4.5m from government’s Getting Building Fund to help deliver the project. Managed in the region by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, the Getting Building Fund is part of government’s package of financial support to kick-start the economy, create jobs and help areas facing the biggest economic challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a planning application made to Sunderland City Council, details of a significant programme of work that will include digitally connected walking trails, major improvements to the Gill Bridge which connects the former Vaux site to Galleys Gill, and upgraded public realm, are revealed. 

Proposals made by the team behind the Riverside Sunderland regeneration project include digitally enabled walking routes, and breath-taking cliff-top walks where people will be able to tap into 5G, as part of a vision to become the most digitally connected city in the UK. 

A major lighting strategy will ensure that the areas can be used by day and evening, and existing infrastructure on site, including the old Gill Bridge, will be renovated, creating an illuminated crossing, that will be resurfaced with a hard-wearing and attractive anti-slip topcoat, and decorated with powder coated steel railings that will form the balustrading, with a bespoke design applied to the fins to create an artwork visible from each end of the bridge.

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “Riverside Sunderland is a naturally beautiful part of the city, but one that has been forgotten for many years. 

“As part of the vision to bring back to life Riverside Sunderland, we are proposing a range of stunning new pathways, exceptional connectivity and areas where people can rest and play, making the most of the city centre’s riverside location, something we have underplayed in the past.

“Much of the infrastructure proposed in this planning application will become increasingly important as the site is developed out more fully.  These walking routes, pocket parks and attractive places to play will be used by the thousands of people who will live and work in Riverside Sunderland in the coming years.  This really is a part of the city that will be totally transformed within the next decade.”

Proposals include an accessible 1km trail along the Cliff Top Path for people to move safely on foot or by bike and explore the expansive views across the Wear Gorge.  The trail will link into the new high level smart bridge, which is expected to be in place by 2023, as well as new ultra-sustainable homes that are planned for the former Vaux site.  It will also provide a gateway to Riverside Park, which will be landscaped to offer more recreation and educational opportunities. The trail will also integrate with Gill Bridge, and miles of other cycle ways leading inland and along the river and coast.

Digital connectivity will allow the area to become an interactive space, where people can learn about the history of the riverside and the city itself, and take part in digitally guided walks that bring to life Sunderland’s rich past. 

“Connectivity is at the heart of our vision for Riverside Sunderland,” added Cllr Miller.

“We know that places can be animated in new and exciting ways, powered by connectivity, and this is the ambition for this part of the city.  A place that maximises the natural beauty of the riverside, but uses the most cutting-edge technology to create a truly 21st Century urban quarter where people will live, work and play.”

The North East LEP region was awarded £47m from government’s Getting Building Fund, with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership increasing the fund to £55m by releasing an additional £8m from the North East Investment Fund. In total, 18 projects have been put forward from the North East LEP area.

Helen Golightly, Chief Executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Ensuring major regeneration projects like Riverside Sunderland can continue at pace is essential for our region’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Getting Building Fund is designed to support shovel-ready projects in the North East that will create jobs and help our economy return to pre-COVID levels.

“The ambitious plans put forward by Sunderland City Council, which include the use of cutting edge 5G technology, demonstrate what a transformational project this will be for the city of Sunderland and the North East region as a whole.”

The news is the latest step forward for Riverside Sunderland, which will provide 1million of office space as well as four stunning new residential neighbourhoods, housing 2,500 people in ultra-sustainable smart homes.  The homes will be showcased in 2023, when Riverside hosts a month-long Sunderland Future Living Expo, a high-profile event which will showcase life in the new urban quarter.  UK and international visitors will be drawn to the first of the new neighbourhoods on the former Vaux site

In addition, a range of new leisure venues, retail hubs and public spaces are taking shape including the 120-room Holiday Inn Hotel on Keel Square; a 450-seater auditorium, that is under construction in the city’s Minster Quarter; a £1.9m regeneration programme – supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Sunderland City Council – that has funded major improvements to nearby Town Park, along with improvements to historic buildings like the Dun Cow and Peacock and improvements to Mackie’s Corner, which will also gradually become home to more retail and commercial businesses, after being taken over by a Sunderland developer.  The historic Elephant Tearooms is also reawakening, as a Local History Library and there are plans afoot for a new library, Culture House which was recently boosted by the news that Sunderland will receive £25m from the Future High Streets Fund.  The improvements to Riverside Sunderland are part of a plan to boost the number of people living and working in the heart of the city, doubling the resident population of the city centre from 2,500 to 5,000 and increasing employment by 50% to 18,000.

For the latest developments from Riverside Sunderland, visit