Limited value of Showcase scheme

From: Arthur Baker

Crookes

Did I read Peter Kay’s article about Sheffield Showcase (Telegraph, January 20) correctly? If so, then it seems that Sheffield City Council since July 2009 has spent £188,000 on tarting up empty shop windows. There is a further commitment to spend another £53,700 by the end of 2011. This means that from July 2009 till the end of 2011 the council would have spent £241,700, nearly a quarter of a million pounds on trying to disguise the fact that empty shop premises are unoccupied. Please say it isn’t so.

The rationale for this policy is apparently ‘to avoid the sight of rows of derelict looking shops, knocking the confidence of shoppers and retailers’. The policy fools no one. Everybody knows that these shops are unoccupied. The question to be asked is whether this expenditure literally on window dressing is justified within the present economic climate. How many bin men could we employ for a quarter of a million?

Even more depressing than the councils seeming new found enthusiasm for window dressing is the more or less dead certainty that when the economy revives these premises will be taken on by the usual ubiquitous chains. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a city centre that had individual shops and cafes instead of being identical to every other city centre in Britain? Or heresy of heresies, that the city centre was about more than deadening conformist retail. Remember the magnificent Harlequin Fish Bar, slightly out of town the amazing Butlers Dining Rooms and on Surry Street the great Tuckwoods Restaurant – these places really were vibrant.

I somehow think that if we really are interested in a city centre that is iconic, inspirational, with a distinct Sheffield character of its own then the councils Sheffield Showcase policy will be of limited use in taking us there.