City in the market to end retail quarter saga

Leigh Bramall Council has launched new plan to create a long-awaited retail quarter.
Leigh Bramall Council has launched new plan to create a long-awaited retail quarter.

“People won’t believe it until it is being built.”

Some 13 years after Sheffield decided a large chunk of the city centre should be redeveloped to offer a much bigger and wider range of shops, cabinet member Leigh Bramall reflects the doubts of local residents.

“It goes back to 2001 and I completely understand where they are coming from. There will be scepticism until the diggers go on to the site.

“But we have now taken significant steps to move forward.

“There is no guarantees in life, but I am extremely confident this will happen.”

Coun Bramall’s optimism is based on the council being prepared to take a much more forceful lead, borrowing £55m to complete the purchase of all the land, from the original developers Hammerson, the Government’s Homes and Communities Agency and 19 businesses that have not yet sold up.

The authority says it is reducing the risk to potential developers.

And even if this approach fails, it believes it will not have lost out because of the value of the land in its possession.

Another trump card, it says, is £60m of Government money that remains on the table for infrastructure improvements under the Tax Incremental Financing Scheme that allows Sheffield to borrow the money against income from business rates once the quarter is up and running.

Ambitions nosed dived last time because of the recession.

Now hopes are pinned on the private sector responding over the next few months to the latest package.

Nalin Seneviratne, the council’s director of capital and major projects, said the project was now more viable, and since developers and investors had been briefed at the Mipim international real estate fair in Cannes last March, “24 developers are chasing us to get involved”.

He added: “Now is absolutely the right time to get on and do this.”

Coun Bramall said the quarter was “a crucial element” in the regeneration of the city centre and economic development of Sheffield, and local people were “absolutely desperate” for the quarter, he said.

“They want new shops, a bigger range of shops. The Hammerson scheme would have delivered that, it wasn’t possible so we are moving on and are absolutely confident that this will do the same.”

There was a “new delivery model” that recognised the weaknesses of the previous scheme.

“We are fully committed to moving the development of the New Retail Quarter forward urgently now and this decision to secure the ownership of the properties needed for the development is key to making this happen.”

Predictably, online reaction was less enthusiastic.

“It’s all talk until we see the first bricks being laid,” said one observer.

“We will have to wait and see,” said another.