Moves at the top amid Meadowhall questions

Meadowhall sales . Shoppers in search of bargains.
Meadowhall sales . Shoppers in search of bargains.

THE future of Meadowhall is expected to be steered with new co-owners on board.

British Land, which currently has a 50% stake in the shopping and leisure centre, is thought to be preparing to team up with a Norwegian group after deciding against selling any part of its share.

The deal is in the making at a time when speculation is growing over expansion plans.

So far Meadowhall’s owners have been restricted by Government and local planning rules designed to protect established shopping centres, including Sheffield city centre.

The council is nervous of any moves to create more large shops in the east end while the future of the Sevenstone retail quarter in the city centre is at such a sensitive point.

Already it is pondering an application for a big Next Home and Garden store on vacant land next to the shopping mall, part of a proposed complex at the Sheffield Road/Vulcan Road entrance that includes a Sytner car dealership and a drive-through Costa Coffee shop.

Meanwhile, the Swedish chain Ikea has indicated its interest on a number of occasions in a possible store in Sheffield near the M1.

The latest financial moves reportedly see British Land shelving proposals to sell half of its 50% stake in Meadowhall, opting for its first 50-50 strategic joint partnership with Norges Bank Investment Management, the world’s second largest sovereign wealth fund.

London & Stamford, British Land’s existing 50-50 joint venture partner in the UK’s fourth largest UK regional shopping centre for the past three years, is said to remain committed to divesting its own stake in the Meadowhall.

British Land is thought to consider Meadowhall as one of its best assets, with the prospect of a rising value. Although many shops are struggling during the recession, “prime” assets in strong regional locations are generally performing well.

So far land around the shopping centre has been zoned for offices and housing, specifically precluding any significant retail expansion.

Any major retail scheme offering a large number of jobs could be seen as a temptation for the council to take a new line.

However, Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts believes the council should stand firm.

“Meadowhall has been a great success story for Sheffield in terms of the creation of jobs and the regeneration of the Lower Don Valley, but the priority for the council must be the sustainability of the city centre,” he said.

“I think it is very difficult for the council to do anything unless there is some certainty about Sevenstone going ahead.”

Mr Betts said it was almost time for Sevenstone developers Hammerson to “put up or shut up” over the future of the project to transform the area between Pinstone Street, Barkers Pool and Moorhead.

If they did not want to proceed, they should step back and allow the council to find another developer.

Talks are being held between the council and Sevenstone to try to find a way forward for the project, which has been on hold for three years because of the recession, and has already been scaled back.

Options are thought to include maintaining the longstanding comprehensive approach to the development, proceeding a section at a time or looking for a new developer.

Crucial to the future is the response of the John Lewis Partnership, which has committed itself to a new store in Sheffield, but has not yet indicated whether it wants a new and bigger building or to comprehensively redevelop its existing premises.

Meadowhall was built in 1990 on the site of a former steelworks by Yorkshire entrepreneurs Eddie Healey and Paul Sykes. It was bought by British Land in 1999 for £1.17bn. London & Stamford bought its 50% stake for £588m in February 2009. A £7m refurbishment of the Oasis dining quarter was completed in October last year.

Mark and Spencer is today (Thursday) opening its revamped store at Meadowhall.