MORE than a quarter of shops in Sheffield city centre are standing empty, according to a survey.
The impact of the recession is reflected in the continuing delay in the construction of the Sevenstone retail quarter, which has led to vacant units around Pinstone Street, Cambridge Street and Charter Square. Talks are to be held this month on the future of the scheme.
But council leaders are pointing to a long-awaited start in building the markets on The Moor as evidence that there is still retail confidence in the city centre.
The study by the Local Data Company found that 26.1% of shops are vacant - the sixth worst figure of any city or town in Britain, and a 3% rise on last year.
Once Sevenstone is taken out of the equation, the figure drops to 13.8%.
The council says Sheffield has seen the closure of major national retailers, as in every town and city centre, and it is “doing everything we can” to help retailers and “to open up new opportunities”.
Hopes rest partly on the new markets, replacing those at Castlegate, in helping to revive The Moor. The scheme includes new large modern shop units facing the precinct of the type that retailers say are needed in Sheffield.
Above all, the key to the future of the city centre is seen in resolving the Sevenstone issue.
After years of delays, the council is expected to express its frustrations at this months negotiations with developers Hammerson.
There is still the option of pressing ahead with a scheme that has already been scaled back to reflect the economic circumstances.
But it could be decided to proceed in stages - or to invite another developer to take over. One of the keys is the response of the John Lewis Partnership, which has yet to decide whether to relocate to bigger premises or to redevelop its Barkers Pool store.
Some of the vacant shops in the Sevenstone area have reopened on short-term leases, and others are being used as shop windows for local organisations.
Hammerson project director Richard Brown said: “In the past three months we have agreed six new lettings in the Cambridge Street and Pinstone Street area of the development site. In addition, five existing businesses have agreed to continue to trade to maintain an active presence within the development area.
“We also continue to sponsor the Sheffield Showcase Project, which is an excellent use of vacant units to promote local enterprises. We continue to actively manage the site in advance of our development proposals coming forward.”
Hammerson has exchanged contracts to acquire Leeds’ Victoria Quarter, which is anchored by upmarket department store Harvey Nichols, for £136m, reinforcing its presence both in Leeds and in the fast-growing luxury retail sector.
The company said the acquisition complements its proposals for the first phase of Eastgate Quarters, which is next to the Victoria Quarter.