TWENTY years after it opened, signs are emerging that Meadowhall could be preparing for a major expansion.
The owners are reportedly looking to develop adjoining land to create the UK’s largest out-of-town shopping destination.
Speculation involves a location for an Ikea store amid recent political enthusiasm to revive attempts to attract the Swedish retailer to the city, alongside a homeware development and a food-based operation, all in a separate building that would expand Meadowhall from 1.4m sq ft to more than 2m sq ft.
So far any moves to extend the shopping centre have been constrained by planning guidelines to protect the city centre and district centres – and Sheffield City Council said this week that its stance has not changed.
In particular, it is anxious to ensure that there are no deterrents to delivering the £600m Sevenstone retail quarter, which it has described as crucial to the future prosperity of the city centre.
Meadowhall owners British Land and London & Stamford are said to be working up their plans in the light of a growing conviction that the Sevenstone project will be delivered.
Although there is nothing concrete on the Meadowhall table, the council and local MP Clive Betts are keeping an eye on possible developments.
As well as the potential for disrupting the revival of the city centre, the other big issue is traffic. No major development is likely to be allowed by the Government’s Highways Agency without a strategy for relieving the pressure on the M1 junctions.
Already the council has a potential solution in the form of a new road between Meadowhall and Rotherham passing under the Tinsley Viaduct. It could be one of the conditions if Meadowhall expansion plans were firmed up.
In fact, some proposals have been submitted by British Land and approved by the council. They relate to an office campus and a development of up to 1,300 homes on derelict land between the shopping centre and Weedon Street.
But when it comes to extending the retail side, the issue has always been much more sensitive.
Council chief executive John Mothersole said concerns that the authority had raised in the past were still valid as it seeks to maintain a balance between the interests of city centre and out-of-town interests.
“If there is a proposal that is different from that of a few years ago for a large office campus and residential development, let’s see it,” he said.
Mr Betts, whose Sheffield South East constituency includes the Darnall district centre, said: “I understand why people would want to see an Ikea in Sheffield but the priority has to be the viability of the city centre and district centres. Any application has to be seen in that light.”
He also raised the question of traffic congestion – and the need to ensure some land remains earmarked for housing to help the city meet its long-term housing needs.
Since Meadowhall opened in September 1990, plans to develop adjoining derelict land have come and gone. Things could be stirring again.