BACKERS of the proposed Sevenstone retail quarter in Sheffield city centre are objecting to plans to develop land adjoining Meadowhall for a large Next Home and Garden store.
They fear if the council gives the go-ahead, it will send “a clear signal” to retailers that the shopping centre can grow, weakening confidence in the city centre.
London-based developers Hammerson have lodged a protest in response to an application by Meadowhall co-owners British Land to build on an overflow car park at the Sheffield Road/Vulcan Road entrance to the shopping mall.
So far the council has resisted any attempts to increase significantly the size of Meadowhall, especially at a time when trade in the city centre is so fragile.
The Next store would sell outdoor furniture and equipment, along with items such as furniture, beds and fabrics, and there would also be a cafe in the three-storey building. No fashions would be sold. There is already a Next shop selling fashion goods in Meadowhall.
British Land’s scheme includes a Sytner dealership with showrooms for BMW and MINI, and a drive-through Costa Coffee, which would be one of the first in the country.
Despite the nerves, Hammerson says it remains committed to Sevenstone, and acknowledges it its talking to Next about a store in the city centre retail quarter.
But it argues that the proposed Meadowhall development could result in too high a price for the city centre. Not only would there be a new large Next, but there are indications that adjoining land could be laid out for two retail warehouses.
The company’s planning consultants, Quod, are raising the issues with the council at a time when frustrations remain that the proposed retail quarter between Pinstone Street, Moorhead and Barkers Pool, including a revamped John Lewis store, has yet to materialise after years of delays caused by the recession.
Quod director Sean Bashforth said: “Investor confidence is vitally important for investment decisions in relation to Sevenstone. The economic downturn means that pre-lets and positive sentiment are essential to investment decisions which will allow regeneration to progress.
“We acknowledge that Next are in discussions with Hammerson in respect of taking a unit in the Sevenstone scheme. However, any commitment of this nature relates to just one potential occupier in a scheme which could include over 50 retailers.
“Hammerson’s main concern relates to the wider effect of these proposals on investor confidence in the city centre.”
Investor confidence in the city centre is already weak, partly as a result of pending redevelopment proposals for Sevenstone and The Moor, says Mr Bashforth.
He adds: “As well as potentially providing accommodation for retailers who might otherwise have invested in the city centre, if approved, (the Meadowhall scheme) provides a clear signal to the market that Meadowhall can grow and attract future investment.”
Hammerson has the support of Sevenstone letting agents, Lunson Mitchenall.
Director Marcus Kilby says: “The pre-letting of Sevenstone Sheffield is at a critical and sensitive time in this challenging economic climate. It is vital that retailers feel confident about the future of the city centre and do not feel that the city will be undermined by the further expansion of retail content within the Meadowhall locality.”
Next says there are no suitable places in the city centre for the type of development it wants to open – one selling only bulky goods and needing car parking.
British Land says its proposals pass all the planning tests and realise “the longstanding aspiration to regenerate a key gateway site”, creating up to 92 jobs during construction, and 116 once the units are open.
The council remains committed to Sevenstone, despite years of delays and no immediate prospect of a start on construction.
The original timetable for a £600m retail quarter envisaged the development being opened by now, but it was derailed by the economic downturn. Meanwhile, many shops around Cambrdige Street and Pinstone Street are empty while the developers and the council try to ensure a revamped scheme reaches fruition.