The battle over plans for a big Next store near Meadowhall is set to go to a public inquiry. Peter Kay reports on a furious attack on the council
AN APPEAL is to be launched against the rejection of a scheme for the biggest Next store of its kind near Meadowhall - as the company this week launched a withering attack on the council for holding back potential investment.
Next and Meadowhall co-owners British Land are preparing to put their case to a public inquiry after a council verdict that they say dismissed the prospect of £10m being injected into the local economy and 125 jobs.
“As a potential investor in the city, this decision to block growth sends entirely the wrong message,” said Next chief executive Lord Simon Wolfson. “It looks as though the city is closing its doors to business at the worst possible time.”
Councillors refused planning permission for a big home furnishing store on land adjacent to Meadowhall because of fears that it would be too big a threat to the city centre. They followed their officers’ advice that it would jeopardise investor confidence at a time when the future of the long-delayed Sevenstone retail quarter was in the balance.
Lord Wolfson confirmed an appeal was being prepared against the council’s “sad” decision. “We hope that an independent planning inspector will see the strong merits of our chosen location and our desire to create jobs and economic prosperity in a city which needs companies like ours to bring forward investment.”
The scheme involves a home furnishings store on an overspill car park. It would sell sofas, bedding, lighting, fitted kitchens, bathrooms, DIY equipment and have a garden centre. It also includes a BMW and Mini dealership and drive-through Costa Coffee.
“We find it hard to understand why planning officials worked so hard to persuade Sheffield’s councillors to vote against these new jobs,” said Lord Wollfson.
“Maybe they thought we could build it somewhere better? We diligently searched for other suitable sites in and around the city. They were too small, too out of the way, too hard get to, had too few parking spaces and some were simply unavailable. We believed our selected site was the only one that could house this type of large Home store.
“In the end we were staggered by the unusual reasoning deployed by Sheffield’s planners. Believe it or not, they felt our new store would undermine “investor confidence” in the city centre.”
Lord Wolfson said it was understood there was only one objection along these lines. “It seems surprising planners should give this one objection so much weight. I suspect that they were simply opposed to any development in or around Meadowhall, and would seize on any objection that played to their own fears.
“But preventing us building a home furnishings store on the outskirts does nothing to improve the chances of us - or anyone else - building a clothing store in the town centre. In my view their misguided belief goes a long way to explaining the sorry state of Sheffield city centre’s shopping.
“For too long Meadowhall has been blamed for the city centre’s failure. It’s a convenient excuse, but I’m afraid it won’t wash.
“Just look at the other great industrial cities of Britain. Manchester built its Arndale Centre extension, despite the presence of a massive out-of-town Trafford Centre. “Similarly Leicester, Newcastle, Leeds, Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow, Cardiff and Bristol have all transformed their city centres despite their out of town retail parks and shopping centres.
“Sheffield is the only big British city to have done so little to develop its retail heartland.”