Work to turn offices into a £4.6 million student accommodation block on Sheffield's main shopping street has hit another delay following the discovery of asbestos in the building.
Planning permission to turn part of Fargate Court - above Paperchase and jeweller H.Samuel - into nearly 50 apartments was approved by the council in May last year.
But the site remains shrouded in white tarpaulin and scaffolding that also extends along Chapel Walk, which has its entrance next to Paperchase. A fenced-off 'safe access compound' for construction staff juts out into Fargate too.
Work initially stopped last November, stalling for more than six months, but it is understood some work was carried out inside the premises before the hazardous asbestos was discovered.
Sheffield Council says it is 'not satisfied' with the slow progress, and has already served notice to remove the unsightly scaffolding - but this will now need to remain standing for the time being. The developer, Coyne Group, has admitted the delays are having a significant impact, adding: "Our aim is to finish this development, move residents in and start making a contribution to the local economy."
Carl Dunne, owner of the Cards & Gifts shop on Chapel Walk, said: "The scaffolding has been up for 10 months and only three months of work has been done in two separate intervals."
He repeated previous claims that trade was being affected and antisocial behaviour had increased. "It's extremely dark, it's gloomy - I get to work at 7am, and one day last week in a doorway of an empty unit there was six used needles. Drug dealing under the scaffolding is rife."
Carl said he feared the situation would be unchanged at Christmas. "People are looking down Fargate and saying 'It's closed'. I've had customers saying 'I thought you were gone down here, I thought it was shut'."
Gareth Reynolds, managing construction director at Coyne, said the company was 'doing its utmost to finalise ongoing discussions with the council regarding the scaffold and safe access compound on Fargate'.
"The removal of asbestos requires strict adherance to legislation and Health & Safety Executive guidelines. Both we and our contractor intend to undertake this work as quickly as possible. We have made a number of suggestions that will enable us to improve the position on the site and are waiting for authorisation and approval from the council. We want to complete this work as soon as possible, as the delays have a significant fiscal impact for the company and we are mindful that the local retailers want to be aware of progress. Our aim is to finish this development, move residents in and start making a contribution to the local economy."
Coun Mazher Iqbal, the council's cabinet member for business and investment, said: "Coyne has confirmed the need for asbestos to be removed from the premises before the works can move forward. This is causing delays to being able to remove the scaffolding. Coyne know we are not satisfied with the delays to date hence us serving notice to remove the scaffold. However, given the hazardous nature of the works being undertaken at the moment the scaffold will remain standing for the time being. We are in constant dialogue with Coyne and the traders to progress the works as quickly as possible."