JOHN Lewis looks set to stay in its existing store in Sheffield city centre as part of the latest reassessment of the viability of the Sevenstone retail quarter.
Initial plans involved relocating to a new and bigger building on the former Wellington Street fire station - and the option has remained on the table throughout deliberations on how the whole Sevenstone project should be adapted in the light of the grim economic climate.
Now the signs are pointing to John Lewis redeveloping its current premises, which would be less expensive, albeit still producing a comprehensive revamp, possibly involving expansion, and costing many millions of pounds.
The scenario fits in with the latest trading statement to the stock market by developer Hammerson, which indicated that it is scaling back the volume of shopping space in Sevenstone, and the cost.
The project, covering land between Pinstone Street, Barkers Pool and Moorhead, has carried an estimated value of around £600m, but the figure now being quoted is £285m, which reflects a big drop in land values as well as a rethink on the shape of the scheme.
Already it has been decided to drop the idea of a large underground car park off Charter Square that would have serviced some of the shops. Proposals for a two-tier shopping terrace are also thought doubtful on the basis that part of the land would be required by John Lewis if it does not relocate.
In general, the tough economic conditions - with little indication of an upturn - is driving thoughts on how to produce a scheme that is more affordable, but still meets the goal of giving Sheffield a new shopping heart, grounded in the belief that many retailers are steering clear of the city because of a shortage of big modern units.
While the geography may not be changing, there may be an attempt to include more shops to improve viability as preparations are made to submit a new planning application, probably in the autumn.
John Lewis staying put on its existing site fits in with the modified strategy, although the company was this week declining to commit itself either way.
A spokesperson said: “The development programme for Sevenstone has been impacted by the continued challenging economic conditions. John Lewis is working closely with Sheffield City Council and the developer Hammerson to find a viable solution and create a scheme which represents a positive step-change for Sheffield city centre as a retail destination.”
If all had gone according to plan, Sevenstone would now be serving its first customers.
Now it looks as though the earliest construction could start is around the autumn of 2014, although the persistent economic gloom will continue to sow doubt.
*Hammerson is reportedly exploring a deal to buy a stake in Meadowhall after announcing plans to sell off its London offices and to focus on retail. London & Stamford is marketing its 50% stake in Meadowhall, while the other 50% is owned by British Land.
If Hammerson did acquire an interest, it would have an influential voice not only in the future of Sheffield city centre, but also in the out-of-town shopping centre that is seen as a major competitor.