Telegraph Voices: Does Sheffield need the proposed £300 million extension at Meadowhall?

The latest image of the �300m Meadowhall extension. Photo: British Land
The latest image of the �300m Meadowhall extension. Photo: British Land

Molly Williams, student, Sheffield Hallam University

When it opened, Meadowhall was the second largest shopping centre in the UK, today it sits in seventh position, with many shoppers seemingly quite happy to bypass Sheffield to spend their cash in Leeds or Manchester.

However, with Sheffield about to embark on one of the largest investments the city has seen in a decade, that could all change.

This much-needed breath of fresh air into Meadowhall looks set to boost the local economy.

The new extension will not only generate 1,000 jobs and offer more spending opportunities but also encourage more investors to choose Sheffield.

On top of this is the hope of a new space to host live music and events.

On the other hand, with a new cinema, restaurants, the potential for bowling and mini-golf all under Meadowhall’s roof with ready parking, the future of Valley Centertainment looks more uncertain.

As for concerns about the city centre losing money to Meadowhall – from a student perspective, the leisure hall is exciting but as the majority of us live in the city centre, and most haven’t brought a car along with us to university, students are likely to carry on saving on the train fare to Meadowhall and continue spending in city centre shops.

However, if we are to really move forward as a city and get people coming back long term we must not only invest in commerce but continue investing in our heritage, culture and boasting about the unique charm that really puts Sheffield on the map.

Sheffield is a city most certainly on the up but we also have a lot to be proud of already: we are the greenest city in the UK with a third of Sheffield lying in the Peak District; the real ale capital of the world; the happiest city in the UK; host to the world’s biggest snooker event; once home to one of the largest castles in the North; now home to some of the biggest names in music.

There are innumerable reasons why Sheffield is an excellent city to visit, live and invest in.

A brand spanking new shopping extension at Meadowhall looks set to be a catalyst for an exciting and more prosperous future.

Richard Wright, executive director, Sheffield Chamber of Commerce

Sheffield and the region must continue to invest in, expand and modernise its retail offer.

Too much of our wealth is lost from the region by residents going to shop somewhere else like Leeds and Manchester and we must reverse that. A successful Meadowhall and vibrant Sheffield City Centre are critical to this and mutually beneficial.

A big percentage of the people visiting Meadowhall come from outside the region to shop and this investment is focused on increasing that. Its an economic argument and that is why we support it as a Chamber.

British Land are going to spend more on Meadowhall with the current refurbishment and the expansion than the original cost of building it.

It demonstrates a long – term commitment by a private investor that we should welcome.

Big infrastructure investments generally have long – term paybacks. It’s why they don’t tend to attract private sector support because they are looking for a much shorter time period.

Traditionally this gap has been filled by the public sector but as budgets tighten this is going to get more difficult.

I often hear that a successful Meadowhall will be at the expense of Sheffield city centre. In my opinion that is rubbish because many cities have both and consequently have a much more comprehensive offer.

The new city centre development needs to incorporate several “Category A” retailers to complement John Lewis and build the high-quality footfall offer.

I look forward to the final design but my opinion will be based on its ability to achieve that.

Elyse Peacock, brand manager, The Leadmill, Sheffield city centre

Here at The Leadmill we’re quite frustrated by the plans for the £300 million extension at Meadowhall.

While it is fantastic how many jobs it many potentially create and how hopefully it will attract people from outside the region to visit Sheffield, we’re concerned that there simply aren’t enough people in Sheffield and the surrounding areas to support businesses at both Meadowhall and in Sheffield city centre.

One of them will lose out and our fear is it will be those small independent businesses in the city centre, from restaurants, bars, independent cinemas to clothing stores. The Sheffield city centre Business Improvement District recently launched its Alive After 5 campaign which aims to help keep Sheffield city centre busy after 5pm.

However, we feel that the city centre will never become an evening shopping and entertainment destination while it has to compete against Meadowhall, with its free parking and a roof.

The longer Sheffield City Council keep charging for parking in the city centre until 8.30pm and the more Meadowhall expands, the more the city centre will suffer, closing those local independent business which help make Sheffield what it is and differentiates it from other cities.

When you walk around Meadowhall you could be walking around any shopping centre in the UK. It has no character or personality, not reflecting Sheffield’s creative and industrial heritage. We would hope that this extension could showcase Sheffield to people visiting Meadowhall from outside of the city.

Neville Martin, development manager, South and East Yorkshire, Federation of Small Businesses

Napoleon called Britain a nation of shopkeepers. He meant it as an insult, but one of our greatest assets has been the colour and diversity which local independent retailers have brought to our high streets down the ages.

But that great bulwark of our neighbourhood economies is under attack. The dominance of the ‘big four’ supermarkets, the growth of online trading, town-centre parking charges and the proliferation of out-of-town shopping malls (of which Meadowhall is sovereign): all have contributed to the near-demise of the traditional British shopkeeper.

But in the case of Sheffield, a further unique factor comes into play: that of the council’s 15 years of dither over the redevelopment of the city centre retail quarter, imposing a blight on existing traders and a growing unlikelihood that independent retailers will risk future investment in city centre locations (if they ever get off the drawing board).

All this has given Meadowhall a clear run in its bid to become the region’s dominant shopping location and news that it is to expand its offering is hardly surprising.

One thing is certain, however: its glitz and glamour sucks the life out of the regional retail economy and its ‘all-under-one-roof’ attraction and 12,000+ free parking spaces makes the retail quarter redevelopment all the more difficult.

Moreover, the smaller neighbourhood shopping centres, all struggling to survive, will give way to the dereliction already apparent in many areas.

The majority of Sheffield’s small traders are not in Meadowhall’s league and could never afford the rent, but what can other shopping centres offer that can conceivably compete with the enhanced, upgraded magnetism and accessibility of Meadowhall?

And therein lies the dilemma for Sheffield’s small independent retailing stalwarts who stand at the crossroads – where to go?