'Fargate is not over' says city centre development chief as he outlines in detail plan for former retail row
Change is happening on every corner of Sheffield city centre.
The planned closure of its John Lewis store has rocked the city and sparked debate about what could replace the former Cole Brothers site. And the Heart of the City project is taking shape, day by day, crane by crane.
But as more people come into the city centre following the easing of lockdown, many are asking what is next for Fargate, formerly the main retail row of ‘town.’
Fargate’s role in Sheffield has changed as outlets such as H&M and Primark followed cafes, cinemas and entertainment businesses in moving to The Moor.
Now Sheffield Council’s director of city centre development has outlined in detail the three stage plan for improving Fargate by 2024 on the back of £15.8m of funding as part of the Government’s Future High Streets Fund - including the council purchasing a building on the street as a ‘key part’ of its transformation.
“The plan has three elements,” said Nalin Seneviratne.
“The first element is to create a social hub, event space, or ‘events central’, something a bit different to what we see at the moment; whether it is events, art galleries, or pop up opportunities for retailers or artists. That's a key part of the programme. Acquiring a building in the middle of Fargate in order to bring that forward is part of the plan.”
Incentivising groups, businesses and owners of the buildings on Fargate to support the plans is key as is the council renovating the street.
Nalin is adamant that current building owners won’t ‘sit there and let them go to waste’ and will be part of plans for a ‘front door scheme’, where upper levels of retail units are opened up for work and residential purposes.
He said: “The second part is to improve all the public realm in Fargate, improving what people walk on, what people sit on, and clearing what has become tired.
“If readers have seen the fantastic schemes around West Bar and Castlegate, turning redundant streets into the most fantastic green spaces, and so that same design thinking is what we will be bringing on to Fargate – a lot more greenery, more places to sit and enjoy green space, and the opportunity to wire up Fargate for the modern age; better lighting, better wi-fi, better sources of power and water.
“The third element is where we can assist the opening up of the upper levels of the buildings.
"There is a lot of space on the upper levels, empty space, and in some ways that is quite historical that the rental value of the shop units was so high that no one bothered with the space above but now we have the opportunity to repurpose that, turn it into residential and work space and create new entrances off the street, the ‘front door scheme’, where we can, enabling the recreation of a front door onto Fargate."
“We can already see those changes happening, for example at the former Topshop unit the new owners have converted the ground floor into the new Superdrug and the other half is a new entrance to the upper level.
“These people that own the buildings are not going to sit there and let them waste, so that's incentivisation enough for them to make those changes but they need us to help out by improving the street and area generally.”
Despite several recent store closures on Fargate, Nalin believes empty retail units are indicative of a national picture.
“The empty shop situation is common to the whole of the UK. But the key for the council is asking, ‘how can we make Fargate better? I have travelled quite a bit, and Fargate, even as it is now, is not a bad street.
“It does get a lot of criticism, but when you look at places across the country and world it still is a nice street. Yes, it has its issues and vacancy rates, but it’s not a bad street, and what we want to do is make it an even better street.”
A Future High Streets funding agreement has come through, so staff can now start the development project design work, with the aim to finish by March 2024.
“It is complicated to reinvent a street still in use, so these things will take time.”
A lot of attention has been paid to The Moor, with large shops such as Primark being extremely popular. However, Nalin said that ‘does not mean Fargate is over.’
Nalin said: “It is a historic street, it is a very important street and from The Moor to Castlegate you pass through Fargate, it is a major thoroughfare.
“It is clearly going through changes because of the way retail is changing, and The Moor is on the up in terms of being able to offer more modern units that are conducive to how retail is working; but that doesn’t mean Fargate is over. Fargate has the opportunity to offer more independents, cafes and restaurants as well as retail, that’s what we want.”