Video: A roof over Fargate? Ideas for £5m scheme to improve city centre revealed

Covering over key Sheffield shopping streets will be investigated under new plans to bring ‘pride’ back to the city centre.

‘Weatherproofing’ the city centre, as well introducing a sightseeing bus are among ideas suggested for the new business improvement district.

Fargate, Sheffield. Picture: Andrew Roe

Fargate, Sheffield. Picture: Andrew Roe

Actions scheduled to progress in the first year of the city centre BID – which will raise £5 million over five years through a levy on larger firms – have been spelled out to city leaders.

It includes reviewing parking, introducing a coach park to encourage tourism and opening up shops or businesses’ toilets to the public.

More ambitious ideas to be investigated include the possibility of making key areas, such as Fargate and Division Street, weatherproof, so shoppers will not go elsewhere in wet conditions.

James Prince, of the BID team, said: “We are trying to assist the city centre in finding its pride.

“I think the city centre has become a place that people don’t have a positive view of – we want business owners, visitors and residents to feel a pride in this city and this city centre.”

The £5 million project aiming to overhaul Sheffield’s city centre began with a conversation over a cup of coffee.

The BID was born when James Prince and Richard Eyre, Sheffield Council’s city centre manager, chatted one day in the store’s café.

Two years – and much work – later and the scheme is about to launch.

“There’s been a lot of hard work from a lot of people, who’ve done it for free, to get to this stage”, says Mr Prince.

And what concrete plans will be progressed – and more ambitious ideas considered – during the first year have been outlined at the BID’s first networking event this week.

Some measures address long-standing concerns, as well as aiming to make the centre more vibrant.

Opening up firms’ toilets to the public in return for costs being covered by the BID addresses concerns about the lack of public facilities in the city centre, while a review of parking follows complaints about prices in the city.

Other plans include a free graffiti cleaning service, more signage and introducing a dedicated policing team for the city centre – South Yorkshire Police will provide two community support officers if the BID pays for a police officer.

More ambitious ideas include ‘weatherproofing’ parts of the city centre as a way to potentially make the city centre busier, the main concern of businesses balloted earlier this year.

Mr Prince, chairman of the BID’s shadow board, said: “I went to the retail quarter consultation on Fargate and overheard people talking about how successful city centres tend to be weatherproof. You only have to think of the recent Trinity scheme in Leeds and how popular that is.

“I’ve been in retailing for nearly 20 years and there is a common held belief that when the sun is shining people shop in the city centre, but when it’s raining people shop out of town with a roof over it.

“For me, if we as a city centre want to be different and ensure customers can shop with us all-year-round, visit us and enjoy our public realm, we’ve got to take some approach to weatherproofing.”

Mr Prince said this could apply to the new retail quarter in development, but believed Fargate down to The Moor and Division Street would benefit from it.

He said: “I truly believe one of Sheffield’s points of difference has got to be the independent retail offer, the kind of thing you can’t find in Manchester, Leeds and at Meadowhall.

“For me, long term, we’ve got to pedestrianise Division Street, bring retailers out on that space and provide some cover over it, so people can shop regardless of the weather.

“I’m not an architect, I’m a retailer, but what I would love to see is the BID working with the council, going out there and saying here is some money for young architects potentially coming through the universities to say come up with a design, let’s have a look at it, let’s have a competition and then implement it.”

Other ideas at the meeting included introducing a city centre tour bus – seen in cities such as York, Oxford and London – and innovative transport such as driverless cars or rickshaws.

Mr Prince said: “We think, as a city, we’ve enough points of difference to be proud of that we could support a tour bus service.

“As far as some of the more innovative modes of transport are concerned, we believe Sheffield has the opportunity to be different, a bit quirky. It doesn’t have to be another Manchester, Leeds or Nottingham, so we’re up for not ruling anything out and remaining open-minded.

“I’ve worked in Sheffield long enough now to know the public of Sheffield tend to have a ‘I won’t believe it until I see it’ attitude about these things and I am sympathetic as to why that might be.

“We in the BID know that ultimately we have to deliver on these things and then people will buy into us as an organisation and the fact we can make a difference. Talk is cheap, actions mean a lot and that’s what we will aim to deliver in year one.”

In total, 2,000 businesses will be represented by the BID. although only about 500, whose business rates top £40,000 a year, will pay to raise £1m a year for the BID.

The BID will work with the council on the scheme, with the authority pledging to maintain city centre services at their current level and to contribute £200,000 a year over the five-year scheme.

Coun Leigh Bramall, deputy council leader, said othe initiative could help ‘maximise’ existing city centre events and take them to the ‘next level.’

The BID will start in September.

The year one action plan will also include work on:

Introducing a coach park to encourage tourism - talks are ongoing at the moment;

Review of city centre marketing led by award-winning London-based agency Path, as well as a review of the existing events strategy;

Identifying vacant units in the city centre to bring them back into use;

Increasing city centre ambassadors and introduce ‘Guardian Angel’ night-time marshals;

Developing Sheffield as an ‘exemplar’ for mobility with a view to the Special Olympics being held in the city in 2017;

Reviewing cleaning of city centre by Amey and ‘inject seasonal colour’ to city centre;

Setting up a start-up businesses group and host four cross-sector networking events a year;

Holding bi-monthly meetings with council leaders and produce masterplan for BID vision.