The Next challenge: ‘Stop trying to prevent investment’

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The chief executive of the Next retail group stepped up his criticism of Sheffield City Council in the wake of the successful appeal for a Home and Garden store next to Meadowhall.

After declaring that Sheffield was “closed for business” when the council rejected the scheme, he accused senior planners of “shocking conduct” and “needlessly” going through a costly appeals process as the company reflected on the verdict of the planning inspector.

Lord Wolfson said: “Sheffield City Council should stop wasting its time trying to prevent investment in the city and instead focus on revitalising the city centre. The commercial heartland of the city continues to fall further and further behind the other great industrial cities of Britain.

“Leeds has built the Trinity Centre, Birmingham the Bullring, and Manchester the Arndale Centre. Liverpool, Newcastle, Leicester, Bristol, Derby and others continue to revitalise their commercial centres. Meantime what has city’s executive team done for Sheffield’s retail centre? My view as a shopkeeper: not much.

“Throughout this process we have found the conduct of senior planning team nothing short of shocking.”

It had insisted on rejecting the scheme, “costing ratepayers a lengthy, costly and needless appeal process”, he said.

“They were all over the place. First they say our new Home and Garden store will damage the city centre. Then, on appeal, they drop the argument. They could produce no evidence to support their claim.

“Then they argue we should build our shop on a site that was simply too small: a location they must (or should) have known was commercially impossible. Their arguments were rightly rejected by the planning inspector.”

Sheffield’s elected members followed the advice of officers, which had now been proven to be “deeply flawed. For the sake of the city’s future I hope city councillors will insist on better advice going forward.”

Lord Wolfson added: “Despite our experience, Next remains enthusiastic to invest in the city centre. But we have little confidence the council’s senior officers will deliver necessary changes.”

The appeal decision means a Next Home and Garden store can be built off Vulcan Road, along with a Sytner car dealership and a drive-through Costa Coffee.

Planning inspector David Wildsmith rejected the council’s preferred location of the retail park off Eyre Street, near Moorfoot, currently occupied by Staples and with a vacant Mothercare unit.

The site is too small, had inadequate parking and “is not immediately available in the same way that the Vulcan Road site is”, said Mr Wildsmith. Next had indicated it wanted to be trading within 12 months of permission.

The council insisted it wanted the Next development, but in the city, not out-of-town, and it had followed planning policies.