Debate: What should the Sheffield City Region’s future vision prioritise?

Richard Wright
Richard Wright

‘Funding must have given us wealth creation capacity’

Richard Wright, Executive Director, Sheffield Chamber of Commerce

Abi Golland, of Street Food Chef

Abi Golland, of Street Food Chef

Tackling poverty in a region can be simplified to ‘creating wealth and distributing it properly’. I know that is easy to say and harder to do but the heart of any regional strategy has to achieve that. Businesses talk about return on investment and regions should talk about improving the way its citizens live.

We’ve had a number of strategies over the years, including one produced by the LEP three years ago. I understand why it was done – and this isn’t meant to be a criticism, but it was far too focused on justifying government and/or European money, and not on building an economy that doesn’t need either (or at least reduces its dependence on them). How times have changed. There is little government money and we will exit Europe soon.

This is not all negative. It should force us to approach the future differently. We have to earn ourselves a living in an increasingly competitive international world.

A big part of local authority money will come from business rates in the future. Local authorities with a poor business base will find life harder.

Hayley Adams and Tim Grievson play Daisy and Gatsby, in  The Great Gatsby at Theatre Delicatessen

Hayley Adams and Tim Grievson play Daisy and Gatsby, in The Great Gatsby at Theatre Delicatessen

We are going to see now which local authorities invested ERDF, Objective 1 and the like well over the last few years. I hope for everybody who lives here it has been spent wisely and delivered wealth creation capacity. I remain worried it has taken us too long to realise this.

The new SCR vision commissioned by (among others) the universities and the NHS shows real signs that, with the right strategy, we are starting to address the right issues. It doesn’t necessarily pick winners although it obviously identifies areas where it believes we can be world leaders. It isn’t parochial in that it accepts that we are all part of a single economy defined by the travel to work area and not political boundaries. It focuses on creating the conditions for growth and trusts bright people to exploit those conditions to everybody’s benefit. It has many excellent things we should all get behind.

Two points though from history. Firstly we have to realise that the world is littered with unimplemented strategies. Secondly, this needs a different style of leadership, and I do think we are lacking that in this region.

‘We need to be creative and take more risks’

Peter Swallow.

Peter Swallow.

Abi Golland, director, Street Food Chef

My vision for the Sheffield City Region is for us to overcome our natural tendency to be quiet about all the good stuff we do, and start shouting about it.

I would like the region to build on what we are - a region of entrepreneurs with great industry, culture and sport located in some of the most beautiful countryside the UK has to offer. I would like the region to be considered one of the best places to live and work in the UK. And I definitely want us to be considered nationally as a destination for its great food.

I would like us to take more risks in our city centres. I would welcome more creativity, like Grimm & Co in Rotherham, and Theatre Delicatessen in Sheffield, balanced with high quality, interesting retailers like Whole Foods that would draw customers in. We have finally started investing in our city centres, but we need to be creative - not too many hotels and student flats.

Yorkshire Artspace director Kate Dore at Exchange Place Studios.

Yorkshire Artspace director Kate Dore at Exchange Place Studios.

We have found starting our business in Sheffield to be an amazing experience. I can’t believe how much support we have had from the business and food communities. Sheffielders, too, have really got behind us. I want more organisations like ReNew Sheffield, helping new businesses to get into otherwise empty spaces, and more help from the likes of Creative Sheffield, offering mentoring and other support. I want to see more innovative retail. Can we reduce business rates and VAT for new businesses? Starting and growing an independent business as prices increase year on year is tough.

I also want better connectivity and relationships between the main Northern cities. Although HS2 could be positive, will it really contribute to building a Northern Hub, or rather encourage people to live here, but work in London?

Telling the world about culture is key’

Kate Dore, director, Yorkshire Artspace

Sheffield City Region’s cultural offer is rich, award-winning and unique.

Sheffield Theatres was voted the Regional Theatre of the Year at The Stage awards (for the third time) last month, Millennium Galleries is the most visited free attraction in the North, the Showroom is one of Europe’s largest independent cinemas and home to Doc/Fest, and Tramlines is the UK’s biggest inner city music festival.

From this year the grounds of Barnsley’s Cannon Hall will be restored with a £3m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund’s Parks for People. We need to be better at telling the world about this, even though boasting is not a natural trait here. The vision must be to celebrate our cultural offer and to attract larger audiences.

Sheffield is also a fantastic city in which to work as a creative person and demand from creative enterprises for affordable workspace exceeds supply, with increasing numbers hoping to relocate from other cities.

The Creative Industries are one of the UK’s biggest areas of growth and unlike other cities, Sheffield has embraced the power of creative communities to regenerate run-down areas of the city and find a permanent place there. The Cultural Industries Quarter, and now Castlegate, present fantastic opportunities to have creative people working in the heart of our city, acting as a magnet for, and inspiration to, other businesses.

The vision should support the development of independent workspaces and embrace the opportunity to showcase the region’s creative output in everything we do, from the new retail quarter to advanced manufacturing.

The vision should also consider the artists of the future. Creativity has been squeezed out of the curriculum in our schools and if young people don’t develop a passion for culture and making at an early age, where will the artists of the future come from? The city needs to get behind Learn Sheffield’s ambition to put creativity back on the curriculum for all 78,000 Sheffield schoolchildren.

Working together can bring success’

Peter Swallow, managing director, Urbo Regeneration

The phrase ‘collective endeavour’ is key in the Sheffield City Region Vision. Successful delivery is not just down to SCR in itself, but all the councils, businesses, individuals and organisations that want to see the wider region prosper.

It is important that the vision is not just seen to focus on Sheffield, rather it must include and promote the other eight city and towns in the region. The benefits must be seen and felt more widely. However, the SCR Vision document currently appears to focus predominately on the Sheffield area, and consideration perhaps should be given as to how SCR can benefit from growth in these areas, to the benefit of all in the wider area.

Sheffield city centre could become the blueprint for other areas in the region. I believe a city/town centre should encourage more high density residential developments, coupled with the amenities that residents will need, such as medical centres, schools, etc.

Residents of these projects will in turn create demand for restaurants, retailers and so on, with a consequential increase in employment. Having increased the amount of people and trade in the city/town centre, and thus improved the environment in the area, this would have the effect of attracting office and other types of commercial developments; again, creating jobs.

This sounds like a straightforward solution, but the reality is different. It is a difficult proposition to move forward while there is a disconnect between building values/rents and construction/delivery costs in a city/town centre.

The solution, I believe, has to be public sector intervention, and partnership working. Delivery of key developments in SCR, such as West Bar Square and Chesterfield Waterside, will only be possible through a partnership approach with their prospective councils.

For the vision to succeed we have to work together.