Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by The City of Sunderland (COA 17)


  1.1  The City of Sunderland welcomes the request via the Coalfield Communities Campaign (CCC) association to submit evidence to the ODPM Select Committee inquiry into government policies to regenerate coalfield communities. The Select Committee inquiry provides a timely opportunity to review the progress and the vitality of the regeneration process currently taking place within the Sunderland Coalfield area.

  1.2  Sunderland Coalfield area remains blighted by widespread unemployment, long-term sickness and poverty, over a decade after the collapse of the mining industry. Although there have been some positive changes, including environmental improvements, there has been little progress in achieving large-scale economic renewal.

  1.3  Sunderland's Coalfield Regeneration Area consists of four wards within the south of the City of Sunderland, Eppleton, Hetton, Houghton and Shiney Row. The 2001 population of this area is nearly 48,000 or 17% of the population of the City of Sunderland. These wards experience all the characteristics of coalfield communities in a downward spiral: increases in long term sickness, early retirement, increased net out migration, increased net out commuting and localisation of the adjustment problems leading to pockets of deprivation being concentrated in particular areas. These issues are coupled with low education attainments, low income levels, a low entrepreneurial culture, rising crime rates, declining housing conditions, low accessibility and problems associated with insularity. The overall quality of life reflects dissatisfaction with the area within which residents live.

  1.4  Since the closure of many of the collieries, progress has been made in repairing the damage to these communities. Job loss lies at the heart of a much wider range of social problems, which include ill health, poverty and crime. On the 2000 Indices of Deprivation, Hetton ward falls within the worst 10% of English deprived wards whilst Houghton, Eppleton and Shiney Row are within the worst 20%.


  2.1  Successful regeneration requires sustained action across a broad front. The development of the coal mining communities within Sunderland took over 100 years and their comprehensive renewal cannot be achieved within a few years. A holistic approach to economic and social renewal also requires the integrated action of a range of government departments and agencies. Sunderland, Durham County and Easington DC have attempted to overcome the artificial restrictions imposed by administrative boundaries, through initiatives such as URBAN II, co-ordinated transport schemes and housing strategies.

  2.2  The broad-based approach needs all government agencies on board. This requires joined-up thinking and delivery to provide new employment sites and premises, with good transport links, appropriate package of incentives and business support so that investing within the coalfield area becomes an attractive and sound proposition. The workforce needs to be skilled and trained in order to take up the emerging job opportunities and the need to raise standards in education within coalfield schools is a high priority. Improvements to the physical environment are required through housing investment, physical remediation and the renewal of community institutions. The Government endorsed this broad-based approach to renewal in its response to the 1998 Coalfields Taskforce Report.

  2.3  The governance of the area of the Northeast region appears to have been largely ineffective, particularly within sub-regional working. An example of this is in the apparently cavalier treatment of the regional coalfield areas by the RDA, One N-E. The North East Regional Economic Plan 2002, omitted even after consultation, the key proposal of the local authorities to make a special case for selective funding for Coalfield areas within the Economic Plan. This proposal has not been taken on board by One NE, despite it being identified in the Coalfield Taskforce Report, Sunderland Coalfield Strategy and Programme and the East Durham Task Force Strategy and Programme. The ODPM should be encouraged to issue fresh guidance to the RDA to emphasise the need to address coalfield regeneration.

  2.4  The pace of decline in the traditional industrial base accelerated, notably during the 1980s and 1990s. New regeneration strategies underpinned by local partnerships have been developed to meet the additional challenges resulting from the collapse of the mining industry. These included:

    —  East Durham Task Force Strategy and Programme.

    —  Sunderland Coalfield Strategy and Programme.

  The Government's Coalfield Task Force recognised that many collieries were developed in relatively isolated locations; that better transport infrastructure would help inward investment; and better accessibility was needed to support a new way of life.


  3.1  Acknowledgement is given to the English Partnerships Coalfield Plan, but within Sunderland there was a delay of over four years before the inclusion of Lambton Cokeworks within the Coalfield Programme. This 64 hectare site was the largest remaining site of industrial dereliction within the North East of England. The continued presence of this unsightly and highly contaminated site greatly restricted the regeneration potential of the Sunderland Coalfield area. Thankfully this site is now included within the EP Programme and work on the physical remediation has started. This work is taking place in conjunction with the development of the Coalfield Regeneration Route, The Central Route, which is an important element of the strategy for the South Durham Coalfield area. The Route is a joint initiative between the City of Sunderland, Durham County and Easington District Councils.

  3.2  The Coalfield Regeneration Route is part of a range of transport proposals designed to address such issues as opening up employment and housing development opportunities on a number of brownfield sites, in locations that would otherwise be unattractive to developers.

  3.3  Poor transport infrastructure and the lack of good quality employment land have hindered meaningful economic recovery and have frustrated the considerable effort that has been made to create the necessary conditions for employment growth. The Coalfield Task Force Report endorsed seven regeneration road and rail schemes around the country; the Central Route was part of this submission. The further enhancement of road and rail schemes, which followed consultation with the member authorities of the CCC, published a list of nine further schemes, including the Coalfield Regeneration Route linking the A19 to the A1 (M) via the A690 in Sunderland, which are priorities for regeneration. The Route is made up of a number of individual schemes:

    —  The Central Route (Shiney Row to Rainton Bridge).

    —  Hetton Link (Rainton Bridge to Hetton to Easington Lane).

    —  East Durham Link Road (Easington Lane to Murton).

  Parts of the overall route have already been built but in isolation and each individual scheme can only address very localised requirements. The Central Route is the next stage in developing the Coalfield Regeneration Route.

  3.4  Rail Access—re-opening the Leamside Line. There are very limited rail links in operation in the Sunderland and East Durham coalfield area for either passenger or freight use. When the Leamside railway line was mothballed in 1991 a study began that year to examine its passenger and freight potential. More recently, this has led to a feasibility study to be undertaken for the coalfield area to investigate the development of rail passenger and freight services on both Leamside and Durham Coast, to assist with the process of reducing social exclusion.

  3.5  The Leamside Line has been identified for reopening as part of proposals to upgrade the East Coast Main Line (ECML). Phase 2 of the upgrade involves use of the Leamside Line as part of a diversionary route from Newcastle to Peterborough, effectively creating four rail lines from London to Newcastle. This would help to alleviate congestion on the ECML, providing more paths for both passenger and freight services. In support of this, the local authorities have developed proposals for new stations and passenger services. A bid for finance to build the stations has reached the "Work in Progress" category whilst the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) has given provisional acceptance for Rail Passenger Partnership funding for passenger services on the line. The proposed passenger service on the line would operate half-hourly between Newcastle and Middlesbrough. New stations would be created at Washington, Fence Houses, Ferryhill and Durham Belmont.

  3.6  Progress on the road and rail schemes has proved difficult; particularly the low priority given to regeneration in determining investment in roads. The Department of Transport should be asked to re-determine its criteria for determining road and rail investment with a view to giving regeneration needs in areas like the Coalfields greater weight.


  4.1  A key aspect of these initiatives is the provision of a balanced portfolio of land and premises for both inward investment and local enterprise, as part of a comprehensive package for the regeneration of coalfield communities. As emphasised in the Region's Objective 2 Programme submission for 2000-06, the availability of a range of industrial sites and premises is one of the prerequisites for sustaining existing and enabling new, investment. The proposed Coalfield Regeneration Road will improve access to employment sites within the area and between Seaham Port, the A19 and A690 (which links to the A1 (M)).

  4.2  Key factors in the current position with regard to the availability of and demand for land and premises for business use are:

    —  Around 100ha of derelict land within the Coalfield area is being reclaimed, notably Lambton and Hawthorn Coke Works. Clearly these are of central importance to the future employment prospects of the area. Hawthorn Coke Works site has the potential to provide around 33 hectares of employment land in the longer term.

    —  A major private sector development scheme for mixed retail/leisure at Dalton Flatts on part of the former Murton Colliery site immediately adjoining the A19, has been developed. The extensive debate over the scheme, prior to and during the public inquiry, revealed the clear tension that exists between the desire to attract new employment opportunities and concerns over the risks to existing fragile centres. The project offers the possibility of creating up to 1,000 jobs on the site, and is therefore of potentially great importance to the employment prospects of the area.

    —  The quality, as well as the quantity, of supply in the sub-region has improved significantly over the last five years, largely as a result of major infrastructure investments co-ordinated through the regeneration programmes for the East Durham and Sunderland Coalfields.

    —  Despite concerns about the potentially distorting effects of EZ designations on the sub-regional property market, it is significant that Rainton Bridge has continued to attract inward investment, reflecting its relatively advantageous location on the A690.

    —  Given the very low levels of entrepreneurship in the area, it is notable that there are no managed incubator facilities comparable with those available at the Houghton Enterprise Centre or the Business Innovation Centre in North Sunderland.

    —  Experience has demonstrated that infrastructure investment needs to have regard to the importance of perceived as well as actual accessibility.

    —  Following the collapse of the mining industry, residents of the area have become progressively more dependent upon the wider sub-region for employment.

    —  Getting local people into the new jobs being created; particularly in the Enterprise Zone sites is a key priority.

    —  The over riding priority within the area is in completing essential infrastructure links; notably extending the Coalfield Regeneration Route. This coupled with environmental improvements would significantly improve the image of, as well as accessibility to, the area.

  4.3  It is important to appreciate that during the early years of coal mining the villages and townships grew up around a colliery and work was only a few minutes walk from home. As some collieries closed, the National Coal Board organised free transport for miners transferring to others. The loss of jobs in the mining industry has therefore focused attention on the need to ensure that people can reach new employment and/or training facilities.

  For those in work in the area there appears to be a degree of dependence on travel to work by car that reflects:

    —  The relative isolation and peripherality of the area in relation to key employment locations.

    —  The relatively dispersed nature of its settlement pattern.

    —  The increasingly dispersed pattern of employment locations, and the relatively poor access to some of these by public transport.

    —  The pervasive, but disparate pattern of shift work that characterises many industries in the sub-region.

  4.4  Key features of the current position relating to the provision of public transport in the area are:

    —  There is no local rail service, either within the area or readily accessible to it: the nearest train services are from Seaham and Sunderland (regional and sub-regional services), and from Durham (inter-city).

    —  Houghton, Hetton, and Easington Lane have good bus links to Sunderland (via the A690 corridor connecting with Doxford International Business Park and Sunderland City Centre), but weak links to the Peterlee industrial estates.

    —  Taxi services, albeit expensive, are an important component of the local transport system and employment base.

    —  Community transport provision is often uncoordinated and lacks integration and brokerage.

    —  Information services and interchange facilities are of variable quality.

    —  Public transport appears to be regarded by many in the area as expensive and the cost of fares is an issue.

    —  There is a public perception that local bus services have been subject to perpetual process of change since bus deregulation in 1986, and that they are not reliable.

  4.5  If there is a perception in some sectors that the North East region as a whole is peripheral in terms of road and rail links, and that this is a disincentive to economic growth, then this is even more apparent within the Sunderland Coalfield area.

  The area is perceived as being relatively inaccessible in regional and sub—regional terms, despite the proximity of the A19, which provides a vital north-south route from South East Northumberland to Teesside and to the A1 (M) further south. The decline of traditional sources of employment and the growth of a new regional economy has been characterised in the North East, as elsewhere, by a number of inter-related spatial development policies and trends that have had a significant impact upon accessibility from the area. These include:

    —  The location of new development and employment opportunities away from smaller, outworn industrial settlements of the kind that characterise the Sunderland Coalfield area.

    —  A progressive decline in local shopping and service provision, as key players (such as the larger retailers and banks) have increasingly focused on the larger urban centres and certain out-of-centre locations.

    —  The development of strategic growth corridors (notably along the A1 and A19 trunk roads) and growth points (including the new town of Washington), which have been a principal focus for inward investment, development pressure and activity.

  The last of these three factors has been a central aspect of spatial planning and economic development policy within the NorthEast region for over four decades. It has undoubtedly been central to the region's conversion process. But it has had the effect of steering much new development away from local movement corridors (bringing many environmental benefits) but impacting on the viability of some public transport networks and hence the level of accessibility enjoyed by those without access to cars.


  5.1  Transport has emerged as a major issue from a research and consultation exercise carried out for the Sunderland Coalfield Healthy Living submission to the New Opportunities Fund (The Sunderland Coalfield Healthy Living Report, June 2000). A key message from this particular local consultation process was that "transport links are `grossly inadequate' and that many services are therefore inaccessible". Travel costs were cited as "excessive" and local demands for subsidised community transport schemes were strongly articulated and regarded as pivotal by consultees.

  5.2  The study Social Exclusion and the Provision and Availability of Public Transport (DETR Mobility and Inclusion Unit, September 2000) examines the links between public transport and social exclusion in both urban and rural areas. The study shows that:

    —  Connections between transport and social exclusion are particularly marked among unemployed people, families with young children, young people, older people, and all those on low (benefit level) incomes.

    —  The four key attributes of "adequate" public transport are Affordability, Availability, Accessibility and Acceptability.

    —  Public transport is not just a means of access—it has important social, health, economic and symbolic functions, particularly for communities with relatively low self-esteem and few services.

    —  A basic "right to mobility" should be recognised, as a first step in counteracting "transport poverty".

    —  In some cases there may be an apparent conflict with sustainability objectives, reduction of the need to travel being a current Government strategy to assist sustainability. However it appears that many socially excluded people need to travel more, if they are to participate fully in society.

  5.3  The main problem is perceived as the lack of a local job opportunity or service, rather than the absence of transport. The Local Transport Plans of Sunderland City and Durham County Councils recognise the need to improve east-west links, notably between the A19, A182, A690 and the A1 (M). The key aims are to reduce the relative peripherality of the coalfield, integrate the area more effectively into the sub-region and, specifically, provide essential support to the regeneration process by improving access to, and the perception of, key development sites.

  5.4  Transportation ideas outlined in a recent Government Office for the NorthEast discussion paper "Regional Governance" reflect a very urban-centric approach to issues. More attention needs to be focussed on the investigation of public transport opportunities which may include the potential of improving (or more correctly re-establishing) east-west rail links between the coastal towns in the coalfield, Durham and the dales beyond.


  6.1  There are 19,900 households in the Sunderland Coalfield area, concentrated in a linear form of towns and villages stretching along the A182. 80% of the housing stock is in Council Tax band "A", that is, under £40,000 in value. Nearly 30% were borderline in meeting the one or more of the nine fitness criteria for human habitation. Very few new houses have been built in the area and some of the proposed housing sites have been on the local authority housing register for over 10 years. Over 10% of the private sector housing stock were vacant or void properties and nearly all are terraced or semi-detached. One of the consequences of job losses through closure of the mines has been out-migration of economically active population and the resulting problem of low-demand housing.

  6.2  There is an oversupply of public housing, with problem (former) council housing estates, at the Racecourse, Forest Holmlands, Broomhill and High Downs estates. This represents a marked concentration of vacant stock in a small neighbourhood, which then becomes subject to vandalism, resulting in a decline in standards in nearby properties and so the cycle continues. The effects have been so marked, ranging from deterioration in the fabric of buildings to vandalism in the public realm, to such an extent that the area is subject to a "Settlement Renewal Initiative" currently being undertaken by the Sunderland Housing Group. Within the area over 300 houses have been identified for clearance through demolition, the majority of which (over 90%) were previously local authority owned. One of these estates, notably High Downs, has been earmarked for consultancy design approval, sponsored through EP's Housing Initiative Programme. ODPM needs to make funding available to address the problems of low demand for coalfield housing, assessing the scale of the problem and devising positive measures to alleviate these problems.

  6.3  Sunderland falls outside the "pathfinder" areas identified in the Government's "Sustainable Communities" housing strategy, so that other strategies have had to be enforced to improve the standard of housing within the coalfield area. But any intervention to solve these problems requires public funding.

  6.4  A key issue in relation to housing strategy is stemming out-migration of the Region's population. More research into the operation of the private sector house builders, who have been the sole provider of new house building over the past decade, would benefit from contact with local authorities, who have a wealth of information and experience to draw on.


  7.1  The contraction of the coal industry left an enormous legacy of coal related dereliction, concentrated in a few large sites and blighting the communities living nearby. Substantial progress has been made in reclaiming these sites although two large sites in the area remain to be reclaimed, at Lambton and Eppleton (ongoing).

  7.2  The dereliction helped to depress the prospects of economic regeneration in the area and their reclamation has greatly improved the environment of these communities. However, most of these sites are poorly located for new economic activity and most have been returned to "green" after-uses. It has not therefore been possible to recycle these particular brownfield industrial land to assist new economic activities with the exception of Dalton Flatts

  7.3  Derelict land remains to be reclaimed and there has been little new development over the last 10 years. Demand for land from house building companies remains weak, and further housing clearances could be envisaged.

  7.4  The commercial centres of former mining settlements are attractive and the best features of the mining heritage has been protected within the conservation areas and listed buildings. The worst aspects of the mining industry have subsequently been cleared creating open spaces and sub regional recreation centres. The settlement breaks within the urban areas is a significant feature of the area, and as such need to be maintained and enhanced. Greater use must be made of "brown field" sites to accommodate new development and avoid encouraging further urban sprawl.


  8.1  The Sunderland Coalfield communities have had a range of policy instruments and funding programmes available to support the regeneration process.

    —  Objective 2 funding, covering the whole area, with a focus upon a number of Priority 3 wards, for Community Economic Development funding.

    —  The RECHAR programme (covering the whole area).

    —  SRB Programmes.

    —  Assisted Area Status, the area benefited from Development Area status until the review, it is eligible for Tier 2 and Tier 3.

    —  Neighbourhood Renewal Funding, Hetton ward was identified for increased funding from NRF monies due to its high position in 2000 IDMS scores.

    —  Local Transport Plan money for Central Route.

    —  Additional English partnership/Regional Development Agency (ONE North East), TEC and Business Link support for regeneration projects in various parts of the area.

    —  URBAN II European funding jointly awarded with Easington DC and Durham CC.

  8.2  The vision within the Sunderland Coalfield Partnership is to create a sustainable future, with new jobs to replace those lost in traditional industries, a greatly improved environment and a revived community spirit, thereby enabling the area to become a better place to live, work and visit.

  8.3  The repercussive effects of regenerative measures upon the wider City of Sunderland area will have an impact upon the Sunderland Coalfield Regeneration Area. The former Enterprise Zone created at Doxford Park has attracted 5,000 jobs, which has had a beneficial effect upon the Coalfield area, the City of Sunderland and is of regional importance.

  8.4  The proposed "Business Growth Zones" replicate only a small part of the former EZ package, even though a central proposal of the 1998 Coalfield Task Force was that there should be successor to the Enterprise Zones. The EZ's in surrounding areas, notably in Easington DC and within the urban area of Sunderland have attracted thousands of new jobs. There has been little "boundary hopping" and in fact partnership arrangements between the local authority areas have developed.

  8.5  A case for a successor to the present Enterprise Zone regime within specific coalfield areas would greatly benefit, not only the immediate area but, as shown by Doxford Park and Hylton Riverside (both within Sunderland), they have a wider beneficial effect upon the sub regional economy. The new "Enterprise Areas" being brought forward by the Government offer some assistance to the very smallest businesses, but of little value to the inward investor and are no real replacement.


  9.1  Despite being home to around 5% of the British population and nearly 20% of Sunderland's population, coalfield areas remain marginalised. A decade after their economic, social and cultural life was brought to an abrupt halt by mining closures, they continue to be characterised by high unemployment, long-term sickness and poverty. Government and other initiatives have had a partial and uneven effect in transforming the Sunderland Coalfield area. Little progress has been made in rebuilding the productive capacity around new industries.

  9.2  The main issues, which directly affect the Sunderland coalfield area, can be summarised in the following points:

    —  Successful regeneration requires sustained action across a broad front. A holistic approach to economic and social renewal requires the integrated action of a range of Government Departments and Agencies.

    —  The ODPM should be encouraged to issue fresh guidance to the RDA to emphasise the need to address coalfield regeneration.

    —  The Department of Transport should be asked to re-determine its criteria for determining road and rail investment with a view to giving regeneration needs in areas like the coalfields greater weight.

    —  The provision of public sector support to industrial and commercial property development in the coalfields needs to be maintained and strengthened.

    —  The call for a successor to the present EZ regime should be supported.

    —  ODPM should be encouraged to make funding available to address low demand coalfield housing.

  9.3  Coalfield areas remain in continuing need of strong support from national and EU programmes for social and economic regeneration. Although Sunderland is not unique in its problems, these are mirrored regionally and nationally, it is important that national policies and funding arrangements help support local people and agencies in releasing their creativity and talents in creating sustainable communities, sustainable transport and sustainable employment prospects for our coalfield communities.

  9.4  The City of Sunderland is willing to offer further detailed comments on the issues discussed above if requested by the Committee and believes the issues and suggestions would make further important steps in the right direction.

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