PRESSURE is growing to ensure long-delayed plans for a retail quarter in Sheffield city centre are finally delivered.
Talks over the future of a £300m project to reshape the area between Barkers Pool, Pinstone Street and Moorhead, anchored by a bigger and more modern John Lewis department store, are reaching a crucial stage, with more negotiations held this week with London-based developer Hammerson.
The council is making clear that finalising an agreement is top priority - and the chances are higher than ever because the council can tap government funds to address developer concerns about financial shortfalls.
Council chief executive John Mothersole said: “We genuinely believe a deal can be sorted out because we are in the best position to be part of the solution.
“We are going to get it moving, but we are not going to wait forever.”
The council has indicated it will not rule out other options to take the scheme forward, even though this would mean an even longer wait for construction.
But it is currently working on the basis that the diggers and cranes will move in as part of Hammerson’s Sevenstone scheme in 2014.
With the original £600m retail quarter due to have been open by now, Mr Mothersole accepts there will be scepticism that a deal can be struck, but believes the Government fund, for infrastructure improvements, is the “game-changer”.
He said: “I am not expecting anybody to say ‘Great, it’s going to happen’ just because the chief executive says it is going to happen. The way we have all had to wait means any statement is going to be treated with caution.
“I am saying to people believe it is going to happen when you see the cranes. But be assured we are busting a gut to get cranes on the site, and now we have another weapon in our arsenal.”
Underpinning the council’s hopes is commercial evidence that Sheffield lacks the type and range of big modern units demanded by retailers - a situation that, it is claimed, prompts some Sheffield shoppers to go elsewhere.
It is thought big name retailers are provisionally lined up for Sevenstone with numerous fashion chains in the mix. Other companies such as Boots and Apple, for example, would be obvious candidates for a large store in the retail quarter.
Next has already indicated that it would take a big unit, but it envisaged it would be in tandem with one of its Home and Garden stores near Meadowhall. On Monday, councillors rejected the application for the east end on the grounds that it could prejudice regeneration hopes for the city centre, notably Sevenstone and The Moor.
The verdict prompted an angry response from Meadowhall co-owners British Land and their agents, who accused the council of “being held to ransom” by city centre developers.
Crucial to the retail quarter is John Lewis and the council says the group’s commitment has so far been unwavering.
No decisions have been made on whether John Lewis stays in Barkers Pool, in bigger and refurbished premises, or moves to the site of the Wellington Street fire service headquarters, as originally planned, although relocation appears to be gaining momentum again.