A historic moment for Sunderland city centre was marked at the start on site of the high-profile Vaux development on Tuesday 13 December.

Vaux is the first of five areas of the city to be developed in a 20-year regeneration scheme managed by Siglion, the joint venture development partnership. The high-profile site will include office, retail, residential and leisure features.

The start on site of phase one saw a huge poster revealed by Siglion’s partners and earth shovelled on the site of this waterfront development to mark the start of work at this key location which has remained empty since 1999.

At the heart of the £20m construction of the 5.5-hectare phase one is a 60,000sq ft office building, along with infrastructure work to continue the Keel Line and landscaping work. The Vaux site will also be used as a venue for events and activities attracting people into the city as work continues.

Siglion chief executive, John Seager said: “It’s a huge step forward for the city, and we’re delighted that Siglion has successfully got work started on the Vaux site.

“This will have a transformative effect on the city centre, both during the building phase, and afterwards as we add to the infrastructure.

“This really is an iconic site for Sunderland, and will attract people, jobs and money into the city centre for years to come.”

Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, said: “I am delighted that, at long last, works are beginning on the Vaux site. This major redevelopment will transform the gateway to our city.”

The flagship development will include a hotel, food, leisure, residential and parking elements in later phases of the work. It will also extend the amount of high quality office space with the aim of creating a commercial community at the heart of the city.

Councillor Watson, chair of Siglion, said: “This was a momentous day for Sunderland as work began on this major redevelopment, on a prime site which has stood idle for far too long.

“A huge amount of work has gone into the plans and designs which will now start to see fruition; plans where local people and businesses have been able to give their feedback throughout the scheme to ensure we’re delivering what Sunderland wants and needs.”

The site, located to the north of St. Mary’s Boulevard and bounded by the River Wear to the north, was bought by Tesco in 2001 after the brewery closed in 1999. Tesco failed to secure consent for its plans for the site which included a large supermarket and car park and eventually sold the land to Sunderland City Council in 2011.

The planning report which accepted Siglion’s mixed-use proposals for the site said: “It will help realise the regeneration of this key brownfield site by bringing it back into active use and offering significant economic benefits to the City”.

The contractor for the first phase is Carillion. Mike Rutherford, senior project manager with Carillion said: “Today not only signals an important milestone for the iconic Vaux site but for the wider regeneration of Sunderland. This is a very exciting project which will help transform Sunderland, creating jobs, workplaces and new communities.

“We are proud to be part of the north east community, employing local people, delivering local projects and investing in our three apprentice training centres and are therefore excited to play an important role in this project.”

The architect for phase one is Fielden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBS) and the masterplan for the 5.5 hectare site is by Urbed.

Work on site also marks the start of the public consultation on The Launch, a monumental structure to mark the completion of The Keel Line. The proposal is for a fantastic new structure for Sunderland to commemorate the city’s shipbuilding heritage.

Siglion chief executive, John Seager, said: “Following the successful collaboration Siglion had with artists in the Cultural Partnership’s 10 x 10 competition, we broadened that idea to bring together 20 artists in a design competition to create a great new addition to the city. We’ll be gathering feedback from people about the design at the consultation.”

The Keel Line, Launch and first building at the Vaux site are due to be completed in June 2018, in time for the Tall Ship Race’s visit to Sunderland.

Siglion was established as a joint venture company to manage the biggest-ever regeneration project for Sunderland.

It is carrying out work in five sites across the city – Vaux, Seaburn, Chapel Garth, Farringdon Row and Numbers Garth.