TRADERS in Stocksbridge town centre expressed frustration this week over a strategy designed to improve its fortunes.
They are concerned that the city council’s approach to development will attract mainly multinational retailers who will draw business from existing shops.
And they are “exasperated” the authority is looking to European funds to support the project, claiming they have had little support over the years, least of all from Europe.
Last month city councillors backed long-running plans for shops, offices and houses to help the steel town recover economically. The council will help buy land and support an application for European grants.
But the Federation of Small Businesses fears an out-of-town retail park will emerge, not a new town centre as envisaged by the council.
Tracey Martin, who runs the Works Lunchbox, said: “Local traders have tried to keep the town alive for years without any European money, despite the large companies who owned many of the buildings in town preventing them from being taken over by small independents and keeping them empty.
“It seems somewhat unfair that the council should seek to bid for grants to enhance the fortunes of incoming multi-national retailers whose sole aim will be to take trade away from the locals.
“Had they shown similar concern for attracting investment in existing businesses, it would have been possible for local shop owners to improve and expand their operations years ago and brighten up the town centre”.
Andrew Flower, who chairs the FSB’s South Yorkshire branch, said: “It is an established fact that for every pound a customer spends with a local independent retailer, 95p is retained in the local economy.
“With the large corporate retailers, the figure drops to as low as 25p. It demonstrably makes sense to invest first and foremost in local retailers and we will therefore be seeking assurances that if Sheffield City Council supports a grant application to the European Regional Development Fund, a proportion of the grant will be given over to developing longstanding businesses in the town centre.”
Mr Flower said neither the council nor Stocksbridge Regeneration Company “has made any concerted effort to offer support to the existing business community.
The council says it wants to improve Stocksbridge so shoppers do not have to travel to Hillsborough, Chapeltown and Penistone. It is working with Stocksbridge Regeneration Company – created by Dransfield Properties and Gallagher Developments – the town council and other groups.
Proposals include a supermarket and other shops.