Detailed plans for a world-class training facility that will provide ‘next generation skills for next generation homes’ have been submitted this week.

Sunderland City Council, Sunderland College and the Ministry of Building Innovation and Education (MOBIE) have worked together to develop plans for a Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy (HICSA) – a ground-breaking facility that will educate, train and upskill local people to create innovative factory-built new homes, the first of which will be assembled at Riverside Sunderland. And now a planning application for the £15m building has been submitted to the local authority, which – if given the green light – will pave the way for work to start later this year.

The facility earmarked for Sheepfolds will be operated by Sunderland College with support from industry partners. 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).

When completed, HICSA will support the development of scores of eco-friendly homes planned for Riverside Sunderland and the city centre. The planning application follows the Government’s Levelling Up Fund (LUF) announcement as part of the last Autumn Budget, which committed £20m to support the city’s housing ecosystem, including £9m of support for HICSA.

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

He said: “Sunderland is a transforming city, and part of that picture is the development of high-quality sustainable homes. I have an ambition that the activity we drive as a council is geared towards creating jobs and opportunities for local people, and through HICSA, we’re absolutely doing that, ensuring it is local people who will have the skills and expertise to build the homes of the future.

“This is true partnership and true innovation.”

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 EPNE, which comprises Sunderland College, said: “For a number of years Councillor Miller and I have talked about our collective aspirations for a construction skill centre in the city. As a consequence, the college has worked with the council’s chief executive, Patrick Melia, and his senior team aligning economic strategy to technical education and skills; ultimately this has led to this visionary new development, a key part of the levelling up agenda.

“As Sunderland College and our wider college group, Education Partnership North East (EPNE) and the city continues to lead the way in terms of green skills strategy and future economy, I am thrilled this important project has taken yet another step forward”.

“We are a hugely ambitious college, and Sunderland is an equally ambitious city, so – by working in partnership with the council and our colleagues at MOBIE, we can ensure that bears fruit for the city’s young people and adults wishing to newly train, upskill or reskill.”

HICSA is one of a number of 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. The Sunderland Future Living Expo 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.

One of the key partners shaping plans for HICSA is MOBIE, which was founded by Sunderland born TV architect, George Clarke. The organisation was set up to inspire young people and to revolutionise the way we think about our homes and produce the talent capable of creating future-housing.

Mr Clarke believes that – by developing HICSA – MOBIE can play a key part in creating innovative, low carbon homes across the region, working with young people to drive social mobility by giving them the skills they will need to transform the way we build homes in the North East, which will in turn create new and exciting jobs.He said: “HICSA is game-changing, so we very much hope this planning application is green-lit, so we can advance with the pace and energy Sunderland is renowned for.

“This is a truly innovative project and we’re really proud to be playing a part in it – particularly because of the boost it will deliver to my home city. There is a huge opportunity for Sunderland to play a leading role in defining how homes of the future look and through HICSA, to develop an eco-system that will allow people from the city to build them too. We’re hopeful of making this our national HQ for MOBIE as it really does epitomise what we’re trying to achieve with MOBIE.”

Mark Southgate, chief executive of MOBIE, said: “The way we design and build homes is changing. HICSA will help ensure that young people entering the home-building industry have all the skills they need for the future, including digital design, knowledge of manufacturing processes and techniques and low carbon technologies. I really believe HICSA has the potential to become a national leader in the provision of skills for better home design and delivery.”

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

Why Education Partnership North East (EPNE)?

Highly commended - Employer of the Year, Sunderland Echo Portfolio Awards 2019

Engagement with Employers - Association of Colleges (AoC) Beacon Award 2017

(Sunderland College On-programme Survey 2017)

Selected by DfE for 2021 T Level pilot to deliver the new high-quality technical qualifications.

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