THE boss of retail giant Next has accused Sheffield Council of ‘closing its doors for business’ - as it launches an appeal against refusal of planning permission for a new homeware store at Meadowhall.
The company’s chief executive Lord Simon Wolfson said the store, on a derelict site off Meadowhall Way, would have been the largest Next Home store of its kind, and ‘brought customers to Sheffield from far and wide’ as well as creating 125 jobs.
But the council decided the development could risk planned investment in the city centre on The Moor and in the planned Sevenstone retail quarter.
Announcing an appeal, Lord Wolfson said: “Sheffield Council refused planning permission. In doing so it scrapped investment and destroyed new jobs.
“In the end, we were staggered by the unusual reasoning deployed by Sheffield’s planners. They felt our new store would undermine ‘investor confidence’ in the city centre. But we understand there was only one objection along these lines.
“It seems surprising planners should give this one objection so much weight. I suspect they were simply opposed to any development in or around Meadowhall, and would seize on any objection that played to their own fears.”
Coun Alan Law, chair of the planning board which rejected the plans, said: “It was a tough decision but we have to take a wider view and consider the potential damage to the city centre.”
The council’s current planning policy is against retail expansion in the Meadowhall area.
But Sheffield Chamber of Commerce expressed disappointment the Next planning application was rejected, because of the wealth and jobs the investment would bring to the city.
Executive director Richard Wright said: “Meadowhall brings wealth into the city from outside the region. The Next development is not one we believe they would transfer to the city centre, so that is a net loss to us.
“Our position is the city should push for both Sevenstone and the Next based Meadowhall extension, as we then know they will bring wealth into the region and that’s what is important.”
Alastair Reid, chair of the Chamber’s Property and Regeneration Forum, added: “Studies have shown the biggest problem in Sheffield is many residents from the west side of the city actually prefer to shop in Manchester and Leeds, and Sevenstone should be accelerated to bring them back here.
“Many do not travel to Meadowhall so we are not convinced the Next development is, in reality, any threat to the city centre.
“A bigger threat is we are not getting on with Sevenstone - that should be the priority, but not by rejecting Meadowhall development.”
But the council’s stance was backed by Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts, leader of Sheffield Council when it approved the building of Meadowhall in the late 1980s, and whose constituency includes the shopping mall.
He said: “The council’s decision to reject Next is in line with national planning guidelines. Meadowhall itself would not have been given planning permission these days.
“When Meadowhall was approved account was taken of the likely reduction in trade in the city centre, but it was underestimated.
“The council is right to protect the city centre and the chance of redevelopment there.”
■ Mixed opinions on store plan: Lord Wolfson and council chief executive John Mothersole give their views.