The Next step in Sheffield for £10m store plan is an inquiry

News: Sheffield Telegraph online 24-hours a day.
News: Sheffield Telegraph online 24-hours a day.

A PUBLIC inquiry is being arranged to decide whether a large Next Home and Garden store can be built near Meadowhall.

It is expected that arguments for and against the proposed £10m development will be assessed by a planning inspector over a week in May, although details have yet to be confirmed.

Owners of the site, British Land, have formally appealed against the council’s refusal of planning permission for a Next store selling items such as furniture, beds and fabrics along with outdoor furniture and equipment.

At the inquiry, to be held at the town hall, they will maintain that there are no other sites in shopping areas in Sheffield that could accommodate the development and that there would be no “material impact” on investor or retail confidence in the city centre if the Next store was built.

It will also be argued that the result would not be an expansion of Meadowhall and that the scheme complies with a planning blueprint for the area.

The outcome of the hearing will be significant not only for Meadowhall co-owners British Land and Next.

For it will be monitored by other retailers interested in taking a spot near the shopping mall and who have been held back so far because of Government and local planning guidelines which are designed to protect the city centre.

In particular, Swedish retail chain Ikea are known to have an eye on the east end of Sheffield and could be expected to firm up their interest if Next is given the green light to develop an overflow car park at the Sheffield Road/Vulcan Road entrance to the shopping mall.

So far the council has resisted any attempts to add more shops to the Meadowhall area, especially at a time when trade in the city centre is so fragile.

In particular, it is anxious not to jeopardise chances of a deal with London-based developers Hammerson, with whom the authority continues to negotiate over the proposed Sevenstone retail quarter after years of delays.

One objector to Next application was Scottish Widows, which has started to roll out its plans for The Moor.

Construction of the market hall has begun, and a scheme has been drawn up for a multi-screen cinema and shops to replace the block below Debenhams department store.

However, Next chief executive Lord Wolfson has accused the council of ‘closing its doors for business’ and turning down the prospect of 125 jobs.

He said he was surprised planners were giving one objection so much weight.

“I suspect they were simply opposed to any development in or around Meadowhall, and would seize on any objection that played to their own fears.”

STAR readers overwhelmingly support retailer Next’s plans to develop its biggest home and garden store in Britain on land next to Meadowhall shopping centre.

In an online poll, 92 per cent were in favour of the scheme – despite Sheffield Council refusing planning permission on the grounds of wanting to protect the city centre.

There were 1,122 votes – 1,036, or 92 per cent, in favour of the Next store and 86 votes, or eight per cent, against.

Next is appealing against the council’s refusal of planning permission. The company said the store would be a £10 million investment and create 125 jobs.

Next chief executive Lord Simon Wolfson said: “This poll speaks for itself – it is a vote for common sense and 125 new jobs.

“I hope the planning appeal will reflect the views of Star readers and allow us to open this wonderful new home and garden store.

“As importantly, let’s hope the coverage and comments in The Star will spur Sheffield Council into doing more to revitalise the city centre.”

Sheffield Council refused permission after objections from Scottish Widows, landlord of The Moor, who feared the scheme would harm the viability of the city centre.

Sheffield Council said it was unable to comment

Next’s plans to build a new Home and Garden superstore in Sheffield were thwarted this week when Sheffield City Council refused planning permission for the development.

The council decided Next Home and Garden could harm city centre regeneration

British Land applied in April to build the Next outlet, consisting of a home store along with a garden centre, on an area of car park next to the Meadowhall shopping centre. British Land also wanted to include a car dealership and a Costa Coffee drive-through unit on the site.

However, council officers threw the controversial scheme out on Monday because of concerns that further development at Meadowhall would detract from shopping in the city centre.

One objector to the plan was Scottish Widows, which is making a major investment in the city’s main shopping area with its plans for The Moor. Another was developer Hammerson, which is behind the Sevenstone development – already hit by years of delay because of the downturn in the economy.

Council officers decided that with both of the schemes at “critical stages” the city centre was in “a fragile state”, and that further investment at Meadowhall could undermine its regeneration.

Next is reportedly considering going into the Sevenstone scheme, but such a unit would not give it the space it needs for a Home and Garden superstore selling DIY and garden products, along with ample adjacent car parking.

Next has so far opened two Home and Garden superstores, which it says “have comfortably beaten their targets”, and is now intent on rolling the format out. It has identified around 17 sites where it wants to open the new stores.

BACKERS of the proposed Sevenstone retail quarter in Sheffield city centre are objecting to plans to develop land adjoining Meadowhall for a large Next Home and Garden store.

They fear if the council gives the go-ahead, it will send “a clear signal” to retailers that the shopping centre can grow, weakening confidence in the city centre.

London-based developers Hammerson have lodged a protest in response to an application by Meadowhall co-owners British Land to build on an overflow car park at the Sheffield Road/Vulcan Road entrance to the shopping mall.

So far the council has resisted any attempts to increase significantly the size of Meadowhall, especially at a time when trade in the city centre is so fragile.

The Next store would sell outdoor furniture and equipment, along with items such as furniture, beds and fabrics, and there would also be a cafe in the three-storey building. No fashions would be sold. There is already a Next shop selling fashion goods in Meadowhall.

British Land’s scheme includes a Sytner dealership with showrooms for BMW and MINI, and a drive-through Costa Coffee, which would be one of the first in the country.

Despite the nerves, Hammerson says it remains committed to Sevenstone, and acknowledges it its talking to Next about a store in the city centre retail quarter.

But it argues that the proposed Meadowhall development could result in too high a price for the city centre. Not only would there be a new large Next, but there are indications that adjoining land could be laid out for two retail warehouses.

The company’s planning consultants, Quod, are raising the issues with the council at a time when frustrations remain that the proposed retail quarter between Pinstone Street, Moorhead and Barkers Pool, including a revamped John Lewis store, has yet to materialise after years of delays caused by the recession.

Quod director Sean Bashforth said: “Investor confidence is vitally important for investment decisions in relation to Sevenstone. The economic downturn means that pre-lets and positive sentiment are essential to investment decisions which will allow regeneration to progress.

“We acknowledge that Next are in discussions with Hammerson in respect of taking a unit in the Sevenstone scheme. However, any commitment of this nature relates to just one potential occupier in a scheme which could include over 50 retailers.

“Hammerson’s main concern relates to the wider effect of these proposals on investor confidence in the city centre.”

Investor confidence in the city centre is already weak, partly as a result of pending redevelopment proposals for Sevenstone and The Moor, says Mr Bashforth.

He adds: “As well as potentially providing accommodation for retailers who might otherwise have invested in the city centre, if approved, (the Meadowhall scheme) provides a clear signal to the market that Meadowhall can grow and attract future investment.”

Hammerson has the support of Sevenstone letting agents, Lunson Mitchenall.

Director Marcus Kilby says: “The pre-letting of Sevenstone Sheffield is at a critical and sensitive time in this challenging economic climate. It is vital that retailers feel confident about the future of the city centre and do not feel that the city will be undermined by the further expansion of retail content within the Meadowhall locality.”

Next says there are no suitable places in the city centre for the type of development it wants to open – one selling only bulky goods and needing car parking.

British Land says its proposals pass all the planning tests and realise “the longstanding aspiration to regenerate a key gateway site”, creating up to 92 jobs during construction, and 116 once the units are open.

The council remains committed to Sevenstone, despite years of delays and no immediate prospect of a start on construction.

The original timetable for a £600m retail quarter envisaged the development being opened by now, but it was derailed by the economic downturn. Meanwhile, many shops around Cambrdige Street and Pinstone Street are empty while the developers and the council try to ensure a revamped scheme reaches fruition.