A NEW deal has been struck to try to finally secure the relocation of the indoor markets to The Moor.
Sheffield City Council is preparing to allocate £18m in taking direct control of the scheme instead of seeing private developers take the lead.
With a site already cleared on the lower section of the precinct, it has set a target date of the end of 2013 for the markets hall to open, replacing the complex at Castlegate.
In the week that the authority announced a “breakthrough” agreement with the developers of the £600m Sevenstone retail quarter, it also believes it has found a way to ensure the long-delayed ambition of switching the markets to The Moor has every chance of being realised.
The council has worked with two development partners only for strategies to be thwarted, largely by the recession. Most recently, it granted a long lease on much of The Moor to Scottish Widows Investment Trust on the basis that the company would steer the construction of a food-led markets hall.
Now the lease for the markets site is going back to the council, which is set to borrow £16.73m so it can take charge all issues - from confirming design to construction. Its fund is being topped up by £1.3m from the predicted sale of Castlegate.
The deal with Scottish Widows also sees the company commit itself to financing and building eight shops next to the markets, fronting the precinct, and financing the upgrading of the precinct to the same standards as the Peace Gardens and Barkers Pool.
In return, the council is extending Scottish Widows’ lease for the rest of The Moor to 250 years, with the company working on plans for shops, offices and housing.
Council leader Paul Scriven said a new approach was being taken to make sure the project went ahead. “The markets are now going to be built by the council,” he said. “We are being innovative.”
He added: “The new Sheffield market is a key piece of the retail jigsaw. This announcement is a crucial step forward for the city and its confidence.
“The delay has been very frustrating for all parties, particularly the traders and local shoppers, but the deal now on the table offers a more comprehensive approach to The Moor which will have greater impact.”
The rethink emerged after the previous approach ran into problems over European procurement rules.
But crucially it allows the council to take charge of getting the markets up and running in the current uncertain economic climate.
At the same time, councillors are being told that the new approach commits the authority to substantial borrowing for 60 years, and it is based on interest charges being paid from the market rents.
A report to the council’s cabinet next Wednesday spells out risks but sitting back is not seen as an option. A condition of Government redevelopment agency Yorkshire Forward spending £2.3m on the revamp of the lower Moor was that it could claw back the money if the markets were not built.
In addition, the council is under increasing pressure from market traders who have been waiting years to move to modern surroundings and are feeling the financial pinch.
The screw has turned further for stallholders as a result of the end of a rent discount at the end of the month – a discount that has been running for three years to help the markets through difficult times.
The resulting 40% increase in rents at Castle Market and at Crystal Peaks “will doubtless be the straw that broke the camel’s back in many cases”, the Federation of Small Businesses has warned.
Castle Market Traders Association has urged a rethink, saying the ending of the discount was coming at a time when there was a only a 65% occupancy rate in the Castle building.
The council says the discount was always due to end after three years.
An artist’s impression of the Moor market building