Biggest battles yet to come as Leeds joins race for major events

Pictured is Stve Brailey.Chief Exec of Sheffield International Venues,inside the Don Valley Satdium
Pictured is Stve Brailey.Chief Exec of Sheffield International Venues,inside the Don Valley Satdium

NOT for the first time, Sheffield is steeling itself for competition from just up the M1.

Construction has started on the £60m Leeds Arena, which is due to open in the spring of 2013 and to break Sheffield’s reputation as the only major concert and sporting venue in the Yorkshire region.

Civic leaders in Sheffield fought hard, but unsuccessfully, to prevent a £9.9m government grant through regional development agency Yorkshire Forward going towards the scheme.

Sheffield International Venues, which oversees the arena in Attercliffe, argued that public money should not be invested in a leisure venue in another part of the region that will inevitably have a detrimental effect on an existing business.

SIV also tried to counter the argument that Leeds will be more entertainment based as opposed to an emphasis on sport in Sheffield. More than 90% of Sheffield’s business is entertainment.

Now the battle is to minimise the damage.

“We tried our best, but we always knew that there would be an arena in Leeds,” said SIV chief executive Steve Brailey, pictured. “Our objection was not that it should have one but that it should not be funded by public money. Now we have got to do our best to ensure we can retain as much business as we can.

“In the immediate future, most arena acts will want to play Leeds. It’s a new arena. We have to make sure they then return to Sheffield.”

SIV has estimated that Sheffield could be hit by between £900,000 and £1.8m a year, with a financial impact from next year when promoters start to book events.

One response to the pending competition has been to assess whether changes should be made to the Broughton Lane building, perhaps to make it bigger than the 13,500-capacity venue in Leeds, or smaller.

But SIV’s attention is turning to updating the concourse area with a view to attracting new events.

“We have had some initial drawings done,” said Mr Brailey. “We are looking at increasing the size of the concourse to give us more flexibility for different types of events, for example to make it more suitable for conferences, where you have to have smaller break-out spaces, and for exhibitions and other business events.

“We have looked at the option of reducing or increasing the size and concluded it is the right size.”

The Sheffield Arena can look back with pride over 20 years for the way it has raised the profile of the city, attracting all manner of superstars and spectacular events and, in the process, large numbers of visitors to the benefit of the local economy.

A challenge is coming from Leeds, but there is also the wider issue of upgrading a 20-year-old building to meet competition at a time when public finances are so stretched.

It is a question that can expected to acquire increasing pertinence for both SIV and the council, which subsidises it.