DEPUTY Prime Minister and Hallam MP Nick Clegg is urging developers of the proposed Sevenstone retail quarter in Sheffield city centre to break the deadlock.
He is pressing London-based Hammerson to take advantage of a Government initiative he introduced to ensure there are no more delays.
His intervention increases the pressure on the company for a commitment to begin construction of the development between Barker’s Pool, Pinstone Street and Moorhead that is designed to secure the long-term future of the city centre - at a time when a separate developer’s plans for The Moor are beginning to pick up speed.
Talks are continuing between the council and Hammerson - with the authority indicating it wants a decision one way or another.
Mr Clegg has written “as a Sheffield MP” to Richard Brown, who is leading the project at Hammerson, saying he wants to “add his voice to those urging that we find a way forward to deliver this important development for Sheffield.
“Speaking to local businesses it is clear that they see progress on this development as a major issue for our city, not only in terms of the new jobs and economic growth it would bring, but also the message that it would send to other potential investors. In addition, I’m sure that my constituents would welcome all the benefits and opportunities that a major new retail development would bring.”
The Deputy Prime Minister points out that he led on the policy in the Coalition Government on the introduction of the City Deal, which gives major cities greater independence on spending and raising money, and which Sheffield can benefit from.
“Amongst other benefits it has brought about unprecedented access to the investment required to bring about the necessary infrastructure improvements in the city centre. I believe that this opportunity should be taken to progress the development without delay.”
Mr Clegg told the Sheffield Telegraph: “Everybody in Sheffield, myself in particular, wants to see the potential of what the City Deal offers to Sheffield translated into investment and jobs through the retail quarter.
“I was the architect of the City Deal, and I am keen to add my voice to try to get movement on this from Hammerson.”
Sevenstone - which was due to have been open by now, but has been delayed by the economic downturn - is designed to add a range of large and top quality shops to the city centre, anchored by a bigger John Lewis department store, either through a redevelopment of the existing premises or a new building on the site of the former Wellington Street fire service headquarters.
“Most people believe that this part of the city centre would benefit massively from the development,” said Mr Clegg. “In Sheffield we have been worrying for years about competition from Leeds and Manchester and from out-of-town retail centres.
“The city centre hasn’t got the retail offer of Leeds or Manchester. That has been a debate since I have been in Sheffield. The retail quarter is a response to that.”
“I think we are tantalisingly close to getting movement. Certainly, with the City Deal, developers can’t claim that somehow they haven’t got the wider resources in place to make the development possible. I am asking them to meet their side of the bargain.”
So far Hammerson has indicated it is looking to begin construction in 2014, but the council is looking for guarantees, and has suggested it is prepared to look at other options, possibly working with other developers, even though this would mean an even longer delay.
Frustrations have increased as Hammerson has committed itself to projects in other parts of the country.
Meanwhile, swifter progress is being made on proposals to revamp The Moor, which are being driven by the council and Scottish Widows Investment Partnership. Already construction has started on the markets and the refurbishment of the upper section of the precinct, and talks are being held with retailers over a new block on the corner of The Moor and Furnival Gate, where the McDonalds fast food outlet used to be, and a scheme for the block below Debenhams. Debenhams is looking to upgrade a number of its stores, including the one in Sheffield.
Ranald Philips, agent for Scottish Widows, said: “We recognise the potential of The Moor and with proper support from the council we can deliver.”
He added: “Our aim is to ensure The Moor is a destination within Sheffield and an integral part of the city - a sort of Oxford Street for Sheffield.”