Digital investment is key to recognition and recovery  


22nd September 2020

Technology 5G, Fibre

Equipping Sunderland with the digital means to transform the capabilities of local businesses and the lives of local people, sits right at the heart of our City Plan.  

Digital investment is crucial to our recovery from Covid-19 and in continuing to attract inward investment into Sunderland 

Patrick Melia, chief executive at Sunderland City Council, explains the benefits and growth opportunities from recent successful funding bids and partnerships across our smart city as he explores the city’s growing digital reputation, innovative developments and widespread opportunities set to benefit individuals and businesses alike. 


Sunderland is already recognised as a digital leader as a result of decades of progress, investment and prolific partnerships between industry, the local authority, healthcare providers and educators.  

Cities need to embrace digital, data and connectivity now to ensure that they thrive in the future – an ethos long held by the city of Sunderland, which has led to the rapid and ambitious development of our City Plan and intervention by the Council to ensure underpinning connectivity infrastructure will be in place 

According to Cities Outlook 2019, Sunderland is listed as one of the cities with the lowest ultrafast broadband penetration rates, so in order to realise our vision and deliver real benefits to residents, businesses and visitors; we are developing our own core connectivity assets. This will make the city a more attractive proposition to network providers and operators and ensure Sunderland is listed a high priority for connectivity investment.  

This investment and our partnership approach will prove crucial in ensuring the delivery of transformational use cases as we strive for an inclusive outcome and fair access to opportunities for all, leaving nowhere and no one behind on the journey. 

Digital development 

Digital connectivity will be key to the economic recovery of the region and in particular the step change in productivity that is possible through the use of next generation fibre and 5G, will boost businesses across the North East and beyond. 

Equipping our young people with digital skills to succeed in the world of work as well as supporting those in employment and their employers to leverage digital opportunities from ultra-fast 5G connectivity to evolving digital technologies designed to improve manufacturing productivity or augment processes and systems in the workplace; are all vital in the growth and competitiveness of our city as a place to live, learn, earn and invest.  

Embedding Assistive Technology solutions at the heart of social care delivery has seen Sunderland stand out at the forefront of research and developmentNew technology plays a vital role in the delivery of support in healthcare settings as well as for community care services, helping local individuals and families to feel supported with boosted independence and wellbeing resulting from the implementation of smart solutions.  

Significant new investment and development from Government funded projects and private investment is paving the way to extensive opportunities for businesses and individuals across the city.  

With investments totalling £4.8million from 5G Create and £7million from MHCLG, our reputation for driving excellent results is already attracting positive attention and recognition from national bodies as well as international investors who see the potential in our city.  

These funds alongside a raft of collaborative projects, represent employment opportunities, operating efficiencies and real progress as we navigate the way to our enhanced urban setting of the future, better equipped to provide better jobs, homes and community support services to name just a few of the outcomes and benefits. 

Opportunities for all 

Over the next 10-15 years, Sunderland will create 1,000 city centre homes for a community of 2,500 people and 1 million square feet of offices and workspace, providing 6,000 city-centre jobs. Known as ‘Riverside Sunderland’ this development will play a big part in achieving the goals of Sunderland’s City Plan – to become a dynamic, healthy and vibrant international city with an energy-efficient urban core and a renowned leader in smart city technology.  

The Riverside Sunderland Masterplan aims to build a residential community that spans the river, uniting the surrounding neighbourhoods and communities of Sunderland with new walking and cycling links, promoting health, wellbeing, security and a strong sense of community. Located in the heart of the city, close to shops and other amenities, Riverside Sunderland will be a new urban quarter of innovative homes and commercial mixed-use space offering a new sustainable community for living and working in the city.  

The recently announced £7million MHCLG Getting Building Fund investment will deliver 5G infrastructure at Riverside and within the city centre, representing a key turning point in the evolution of Sunderland as a smart city as high-speed connectivity, low-latency, better battery life and the ability to handle a massive number of connections will all enable a raft of new services and opportunities to boost business investment and growth. 

Improving competitiveness to attract inward investment, retain talent and reduce outward migration as well as boosting exports are key drivers in our regionally focused investment plans. Accelerating and supporting economic growth through the creation of exemplars such as the £4.8million 5G Create CAL (Connected and Automated Logisticsproject, in partnership with the North East Automotive Alliance and others, will encourage further private and public sector investment and represents a major opportunity for us here in Sunderland and the wider North East region.  

At Sunderland City Council, we recognise that the current situation brought about as a result of COVID-19 regulations has emphasised how modern ways of working are necessary and achievable through an improved digital infrastructure.  

Developing Smart Power Networks and increased up take and investment in Electric Vehicles are further examples of how we are proactively utilising our industrial base and skilled workforces to support sustainable city-wide aims.  

Now is the time for a regionally focused investment to unlock efficiencies, improve competitiveness and attracting investment for a digitally connected smart city of the future.