Construction of a building that will accelerate modern construction skills in Sunderland is set to move forward, after the appointment of a North East contractor.

Tolent has been awarded the contract to design and construct the Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy (HICSA), a world-class training facility that will provide ‘next generation skills for next generation homes’ and support the city’s advanced manufacturing, carbon reduction and renewable energy ambitions.

Sunderland City Council has appointed the contractor to progress with the building, which will be led by Sunderland College to deliver ground-breaking training that will educate and upskill local people to create innovative factory-built new homes, the first of which will be assembled at Riverside Sunderland.

Planning consent for the development was granted in March and it is hoped that – with Tolent appointed – work will be able to commence on the £15m building later this year when the technical design is complete.

The facility, which will stand at Sheepfolds and will re-purpose the existing goods shed on the corner of Hay Street, will be operated by Sunderland College with support from education and industry partners including one of the founding partners, the Ministry of Building Innovation and Education (MOBIE), which is led by Washington-born TV architect, George Clark.

It will form a key part of Sunderland’s ambitious city centre housing ecosystem, enabling Sunderland people to meet the city’s future housing needs, with the skill and expertise to employ modern methods of construction (MMC).

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said he was delighted to see the project advancing.

He said: “I’m pleased that we have appointed a construction partner able to help us drive forward with a development that is of huge significance to the city – a development that will fuel the development of construction skills that will make Sunderland a leader in MMC and retrofit.

“With Tolent working on the development of the first housing scheme on Vaux too, it is quite fitting that they will also be building the training academy that will develop skills to help us deliver future phases of residential development at Riverside Sunderland.”

When completed, HICSA will support the development of scores of eco-friendly homes planned for Riverside Sunderland and the city centre.

It has been backed by the Government’s Levelling Up Fund (LUF) – announced as part of the last Autumn Budget – with £20m committed to supporting the city’s housing ecosystem, including £9m of support for HICSA.

CEO of Tolent, Paul Webster, said: “We’re delighted to have been appointed to construct this trailblazing academy that will help nurture the next generation of skilled people, who will build homes of the future in Sunderland.

“The talent that emerges from HICSA will no doubt power our own future skills pipeline, so we’re pleased to be playing a part in bringing this important project forward.”

The facility – the brainchild of the three organisations working in partnership – will enable Sunderland to build the skills-base to upgrade the city’s homes locally, using MMC, low carbon, renewable energy and smart technology.

It will position Sunderland at the heart of the UK’s net zero ambitions, enabling the city to capitalise on the move towards modern methods of construction and sustainable house-building while helping Sunderland realise its Smart City and Net-Zero Carbon ambitions.

Ellen Thinnesen, chief executive of Sunderland College and Education Partnership North East, said: “I am grateful to Sunderland City Council and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities   for supporting this vision.

“A significant increase in training provision is needed for all skills and roles across the construction and energy sectors if we are to build homes of the future, and support the UK’s low carbon ambitions. HICSA will be a key part pf the ecosystem.”

HICSA is one of several exciting projects that are incorporated in the Riverside Sunderland Masterplan, which sets out a development framework for this new urban quarter, comprising the former Vaux Brewery site, High Street West, Keel Square, Galley’s Gill, Farringdon Row and Sheepfolds.

Expo Sunderland is also part of the plan, helping to engage and inspire industry and local people in the delivery of innovative homes on the site, and positioning Sunderland as a world-class place to live, work and play.  The event will take place in 2024.

To find out more about the plans for Riverside Sunderland, visit