Meadowhall extension rethink: Sheffield Council supports review of £300 million Leisure Hall plan

Reviewing the plans for a £300 million extension at Meadowhall will create ‘the perfect counterpoint’ to the regeneration of Sheffield city centre, the council has said, after it emerged the mall’s joint owner had gone back to the drawing board on the huge development.

British Land is rethinking the 330,000 sq ft Leisure Hall in a bid to cut the number of shops within the scheme, putting more emphasis on food, drink and other activities as the retail sector struggles.

An artist's impression of the Leisure Hall, as originally envisaged at Meadowhall in Sheffield.

An artist's impression of the Leisure Hall, as originally envisaged at Meadowhall in Sheffield.

The extension was given the go-ahead by planning committee members in September 2017, but amended designs are likely to be submitted for approval before construction work can begin.

Under the original proposals, a new 330,000 sq ft multi-level wing with a distinctive, latticed glazed roof was to have been built on the centre's car park, containing restaurants, a cinema, a gym, entertainment facilities and space for events, as well as around 25 retail units – a quantity of stores that is expected to be markedly reduced.

Coun Mazher Iqbal, the council’s cabinet member for business and investment, said any changes needed to respond to consumers’ increasing enthusiasm for spending their money on ‘experiences’, rather than simply buying things.

“It is welcome that British Land wants to deliver improvements that enhance Meadowhall’s position as one of the best shopping malls in Europe,” he said. “Its success is undisputed and it will continue to go from strength to strength, but it is essential that any improvements it makes reflect the way people want to spend their leisure time, which now means much more than just shopping.”

Councillor Mazher Iqbal

Councillor Mazher Iqbal

He said a reshaped Leisure Hall would work well alongside Heart of the City II, the council's own £500m, mixed-use vision for the city centre, which is already being built. This will bring shops, offices, a high-end food court, apartments and more on 1.5 million sq ft of land between Pinstone Street, The Moor and Wellington Street.

“Done right, an expanded and improved Meadowhall will complement our own ambitious plans which are already transforming Sheffield and bringing new jobs, retail, living space and leisure into our city centre,” said Coun Iqbal. “We are confident that British Land’s new-look plans can provide the perfect counterpoint for our own plans and truly complement the city centre and the wider region.”

Claire Barber, head of Meadowhall for British Land, previously said adding further leisure at the site would result in a ‘more rounded experience’. It was ‘difficult to get a table’ at weekends in the existing food court, The Oasis, she said.

"At the moment Meadowhall is, I would say, hugely successful," she said, citing annual customer figures of 25 million. "We are getting some of the highest rents we've ever got in what is actually quite a challenging market. And to keep that level of demand-supply tension, I'm personally very nervous about introducing more retail. As a business we've recognised for a very long time the changes that are happening in the wider market.”

Claire Barber, Head of Central London Retail and Meadowhall at British Land. Picture: Marie Caley

Claire Barber, Head of Central London Retail and Meadowhall at British Land. Picture: Marie Caley

A series of retailers and restaurant groups have gone into administration this year, while others have announced store closures or company voluntary arrangements, a form of insolvency. The growth in e-commerce has been identified as one reason for the problems on the high street, but Ms Barber said Meadowhall – co-owned by Norges Bank Investment Management, which looks after the Norwegian Government’s pension fund – was holding up well as it was able to ‘manage the retail mix’.

In 2017 a £60m refurbishment was completed at the centre, creating four separate districts and developing double-height stores for brands such as All Saints and Hollister. The likes of Michael Kors, Flannels and Joe Browns – an online firm branching out into its first physical outlet – also joined the mall for the first time. In addition, £40m was pumped into shop upgrades by companies including Apple, bringing the combined investment to £100m.

The review will probably take several months and the team leading the exercise will meet council officers in the first half of next year to discuss the next steps, said Ms Barber who also looks after British Land’s retail interests in central London.