Retail chain Next is committed to supporting the revitalisation of Sheffield city centre, despite the dispute over the company’s proposed out-of-town store, its chief executive told local business leaders.
Lord Wolfson, who had labelled the authority “anti-business” in its attempts to stifle plans for a Next Home and Garden store near Meadowhall, said such disagreements were “firmly in the past”. Next would be the first to support the council in rebuilding the city centre.
He told the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce President’s dinner at the Cutlers’ Hall of the need for change to drive economic growth and to raise living standards.
“But there remains a large part of Britain’s establishment that is profoundly anti-growth. The knee-jerk reaction to development and change is ‘no’. Of course, no planner, politician or protest group think of themselves as anti-growth - but the effect of their pessimism is to impede, slow or simply kill economic growth.
“But if change is to happen we must be optimistic about what our age can achieve, worry a little less about preserving the past and a little more about creating our own contribution to Britain’s great heritage.”
Lord Wolfson added: “Here in Sheffield there is an enormous opportunity to revitalise the city centre and I am excited about the prospects for the commercial heartland of this great city. We may have had our disagreements with the city council, but that is now firmly in the past and Next will be the first to support the council in its challenge of rebuilding a great and thriving city centre in Sheffield.”
In its evidence to the public inquiry that resulted in the go-ahead for the Next near Meadowhall, the company said it was still committed to a new store in the proposed city centre retail quarter (since put on hold).
The President’s dinner was also addressed by Lord Bilimoria, founder and chairman of Cobra Beer. He said: “We are a country of proud manufacturers, but over the past decades we have neglected the economy and allowed it to become unbalanced. Past governments have been negligent in this.
“This country is capable of a lot. We have the best high-end manufacturing, the best architects, designers, lawyers, accountants, advertising, finance and some of the world’s top universities.
“We have to get behind the country and with confidence we can really go forward. Look at what we’ve done already. We have some great institutions and a solid base that other countries just can’t replicate. But we need to look at our capability, look at our heritage and look forward to the future. We must aspire and achieve against all odds and do so with integrity.”
The dinner celebrated Jon Stewart’s year as President of the Sheffield Chamber, showcasing the city’s manufacturing expertise, including its growing reputation within the real ale industry. Mr Stewart is a director at Siemens Metals Technologies.
- New Master Cutler, page 43.