Real ale pub planned to boost city centre plaza

A REAL ale pub could be one of the next additions to the West One complex in the Devonshire Quarter.

Plans have been drawn up for the former Budgens supermarket off Fitzwilliam Street to be converted into a venue called The Hop.

Already the concept has been rolled out in Wakefield and Leeds, and now owners Ossett Brewery are seeking council permission to take over the empty premises in West One.

As well as the venue being “real ale centric”, the authority is being told that it would sell wines and spirits, offer live music and comedy nights - and have a shop selling pies, mash and mushy peas.

One of the shareholders in The Hop is Michael Heaton, drummer with the West Yorkshire band Embrace, who acts as a music consultant.

West One was conceived as a development of apartments with a plaza surrounded by bars, cafes and shops. Initially it was intended that no more than 30% of the commercial units should be used for food and drink, but the proportion has grown to 67%.

Councillors will consider an application on Tuesday to turn the former Prego interior design shop into a restaurant.

Owners of West One and property agents say the complex, opposite Devonshire Street on the edge of the city centre, is too far off the beaten track for shoppers, but the growing number of cafes, bars and restaurants has led to protests from some apartment holders about night time disturbance.

Planning permission was granted two years ago for the former Budgens to be converted into a Tamla Motown themed restaurant, which did not materialise. Now the emphasis has switched to accommodating the growing demand for real ale pubs.

Although city centre venues have been hit by the economic downturn, the smoking ban and cheap supermarket drink, real ale pubs, which offer good beer, a friendly atmosphere and appeal to older customers, are bucking the trend, say representatives of The Hop.

At the same time, they hope to attract some of Sheffield’s large student population to the proposed West One premises.

“There are no director competitors to the Hop concept, though there are some excellent real ale pubs such as the Red Deer, Devonshire Cat and high end bars such as the Forum and Bowery, which are opposite the proposed site.”

Estimated cost of refurbishment is £250,000.

Council planners will assess the details of the application, from the owners of West One. They say the scheme for the former Prego shop - no operator is being named - is acceptable, despite five letters of objection, including one from local Green councillor Jillian Creasy. One objector says: “There are too many bars and restaurants in this part of the Devonshire Quarter, which is largely residential in character.”

But estate agents Blundells, which has a West One office, say: “Empty units are unsightly and affect the atmosphere and trade for tenants in the development.”

Planners say the premises have been marketed without success for three years. Use as a restaurant, as opposed to a bar, would mean customers less likely to cause a disturbance when they leave. Previous limits on food and drink “can no longer be upheld”.