Taking a walk of one of Sheffield’s main shopping arcades and speaking to traders there are two words which are used to describe the situation – desperate and intimidating.
Chapel Walk has been masked with scaffolding since September 2017 as work on a £4.6 million scheme to build apartments continues at a snail’s pace.
Traders report a huge drop in takings since the development work got underway but, after spending an hour on what was once a thriving hub of retail in Sheffield city centre, that much can be seen with the naked eye.
The entrance from Fargate is covered in scaffolding and boards, leaving the walkway in darkness but for a run of fairy lights, which have been up since Christmas 2017.
When The Star first arrived, there was no-one on Chapel Walk. Empty shops and the scaffolding make it feel incredibly intimidating, even at 10am on a weekday.
The darkness and shelter caused by the scaffolding, led to it attracting a number of homeless people, beggars and even drug takers.
One shop even showed me an incident book, where they keep a note of anything that happens on the arcade and said staff were forced to close the shutters of the shop just 24 hours before our visit.
It was hard to avoid the smell of urine walking down Chapel Walk and, based on our visit, it would seem that even the beggars have given up on the once thriving hub – there were none.
Traders said they have been further angered by a lack of communication from developers Head Office 3 and Coyne.
Carl Dunne, owner of Cards and Gifts, said he was originally told the scaffolding would be removed by June, only for staff from Head Office 3 to tell him that it would be around another ‘six or seven months’ when they visited his store last week.
He said trade was down around £1,500 a month after ‘struggling’ for two Christmas periods due to the environment he said had been created by the scaffolding.
Carl added: “I understand that to make something better, it has to get to rock bottom first but we are not seeing anything other than delays and lies.
“We are on our backsides and desperately in need of some help.”
Next door, Lucille Cox, of Andaa Home, paints a similar bleak picture about the effect of the development, which will eventually see apartments for 80 people.
She said: “Why is the work taking so long? The scaffolding has been up for more than two years and we never get any information. The two people who came to see Carl, didn't even bother to come in my shop – I only found out about it because Carl photocopied me the letter they gave him.”
As you walk up and down Chapel Walk, it is impossible to ignore the number of empty shops, with Claire’s Accessories the latest departure, opting for a move to The Moor in February.
Sophie Khan, who was working in Phone Extras, said: “It's a lot harder than it was. It’s hard anyway because it’s an alleyway so people don’t really trust it but the scaffolding has made it worse.
“We have had one person who used to sleep in the doorway all the time and one night when I was due to close there was a guy just stood outside the shop. He was totally out of it.”
Staff in one shop, did not want to be named, which perhaps tells its own story of the struggles traders are facing.
One of them said: “It is just a desperate situation. The only thing we have keeping this shop going is our regular customers. For the last two years, we’ve not had any new customers.
“We’re lucky that we are still open, we are literally on our last legs.”
Making her way up Fargate with her grandson, Jake, was Julie Garrett. Pointing towards Chapel Walk, she said: “Look at it it’s just awful down there. It’s dark and the smell is horrific.”
Those words should be ringing in the ears of the developers who are affecting traders and, just as importantly, creating a dark blot in our city centre.
An explanation is needed as to why the scheme has hit delays and definitive answers are needed as to what purpose the scaffolding is serving and when it is due to be taken down.
Neither Home Office 3 nor Coyne responded to a request for a comment.