John Lewis steps up pressure over IKEA

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The John Lewis group has stepped up its opposition to a proposed IKEA in the east end of Sheffield in the light of the go-ahead for a Next Home and Garden store in the same area.

It has lodged a second objection to the council, fearing that an IKEA alongside the large Next shop and Meadowhall will create an out-of-town retail “critical mass”, drawing more trade from an already “vulnerable” city centre.

The company is increasing the pressure on the authority as the future of a large part of the city centre remains uncertain as a result of the collapse of the proposed Sevenstone retail quarter, of which John Lewis was to have been the anchor tenant.

At the same time, there is no doubting the volume of public support for the Swedish home furnishings chain setting up shop on the edge of Sheffield, especially from residents who currently travel to its nearest outlets in Leeds and Nottingham.

Sheffield Chamber of Commerce wants to see an IKEA in the city, as do Liberal Democrats, including Deputy Prime Minister and Hallam MP Nick Clegg.

Meanwhile the decision of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to approve the Next scheme after it was rejected by the council was widely welcomed by shoppers and business leaders who argued that Sheffield cannot afford to miss out on the retail investment and jobs.

Despite the loss of Sevenstone, the council hopes that John Lewis will maintain its commitment to either open a new store in the city centre on the site of the old fire station or to redevelop its premises in Barkers Pool as part of a revised retail quarter.

Yet councillors are being left in no doubt about what John Lewis thinks about the prospect of the arrival of an IKEA near the M1.

A formal objection was lodged last June on the basis of the impact on investor confidence in the city centre.

The threat has grown now that Next can open its big new Home and Garden store, it is argued.

“Given John Lewis are a key stakeholder in Sheffield and the anchor department store within the city centre, we have serious concerns of the amount of out-of-centre retail development in Sheffield and the significant adverse impact this will have on Sheffield city centre,” says Caroline Keane, of consultants CBRE, in behalf of John Lewis.

“Any further approvals of large out-of centre retail development would send a further detrimental message to investors and stakeholders that the city centre is not being prioritised for development or protected as a regional shopping destination.”

Ms Keane adds: “While we consider the IKEA application should be refused on its own merits, we note that the cumulative impact on the IKEA alongside the Next Home and Garden will further exacerbate the impacts of this out-of-centre retail development.”

Granting planning permission for an IKEA after the approval for Next would have “significant consequences” on investor and retail confidence in the retail quarter and city centre and would breach local and national planning guidelines, it is claimed.

The council will consider the comments as part of its overall assessment of the implications of the IKEA scheme.

It is expected soon to outline the proposed way forward following the ending of negotiations with Sevenstone developers Hammerson over the project to revive the area between Barkers Pool, Pinstone Street and Moorhead.

Already it has said that it is prepared to work with an alternative developer, although one consequence will be a delay of at least 18 months for a retail development that should have been up and running by now.

The council will be anxious to keep John Lewis ‘on board’, given its importance to the city centre.

A John Lewis spokesperson said this week: “Following the disappointing news from Hammerson we need a period of time to work through discussions with Sheffield City Council. Our focus remains to work with the council on the viability and vitality of the city centre.”

Meanwhile Liberal Democrats this week called for a successful outcome to the council’s deliberations over IKEA after the “farce” of the Next store and the collapse of Sevenstone.

The opposition group said Labour was costing the city thousands of jobs because of its “anti-business” attitude.

An independent inquiry was needed after “a complete failure of leadership at the very top of the council” over Sevenstone, said Lib Dem leader Coun Shaffaq Mohammed.

The council needed to work closely with all partners to ensure the IKEA application was successful, added a Lib Dem motion at yesterday’s council meeting.

Labour says there was no progress on Sevenstone during three years when the council was under Lib Dem control and maintains an inquiry would be a waste of time and money.

A council decision on the IKEA application for a £60m 37,000 sq ft development off Sheffield Road is expected by the end of the year, with IKEA insisting its store would be complementary to the city centre and it can address all the key issues, including traffic.

The Government’s Highways Agency says it needs to be convinced that there will be no tailbacks onto the M1, and the council will be looking to ensure surrounding roads will be able to absorb the extra traffic. The IKEA would have a 1,000 space car park.

Concerns are also being raised by Meadowhall’s parent company about the traffic implications unless improvements are made to the roads network.

Residents in the Tinsley area, who already suffer high levels of air pollution, fear conditions can only get worse if such a big store is built.