Scaffolding is finally coming down from WH Smith’s branch in Sheffield city centre after two years – and a construction area that is cluttering up the other end of Fargate is to go in time for Christmas.
WH Smith was forced to relocate to temporary premises on Pinstone Street in January, as serious structural issues meant the building’s front wall had to be dismantled piece by piece.
For many months, scaffolding has completely shrouded the place and a builders’ compound has taken up almost the entire width of the street, but now contractors have been gradually removing the poles and planks to reveal a reconstructed facade.
“The last I heard was they were desperately trying to get reopen for Christmas and I think that’s now achievable by the looks of it,” said property agent Paul Lancaster, who acted for the council on the move to Pinstone Street.
He said a return for the festive season would be ‘great news for everybody’, and that he was unsure whether the Fargate store would still need a refit inside.
But he added: “That scaffolding is definitely coming down.”
The Fargate branch closed on January 30. At the time, Mr Lancaster said the exterior was falling away and WH Smith was liable for the costs, even though it is not the owner.
Problems with the building first emerged in 2016 and the branch closed for maintenance in September that year. The scaffolding was extended a month later and the shop reopened for a spell.
The council was then told the place needed repairs on the third floor, including a new roof, trusses, rafters, and the taking down and rebuilding of the front and back walls. Replacement flat roof finishes were to be provided on the second floor.
A heavily discounted lease was negotiated on Pinstone Street, in the unit last occupied by the Co-op and Budgens, with help from the council.
“They're secure there if they need to be until the end of January, but I think they will be out of there in time for Christmas,” said Mr Lancaster.
The retailer has already apologised to customers for not offering the normal shopping 'experience'.
Meanwhile, at the other end of Fargate, scaffolding and tarpaulin remains over Paperchase, jeweller H.Samuel and along Chapel Walk because of a delayed £4.6 million student accommodation project.
Planning permission to turn part of Fargate Court - the offices above the retail units - into nearly 50 apartments was approved by the council in May last year. In July it emerged that asbestos had been found on site, prompting the council to say it was ‘not satisfied’ with the slow progress.
However, an agreement has been reached between the council and developer Coyne Group to clear away a fenced-off area for construction staff that is jutting out into Fargate.
Coun Mazher Iqbal, cabinet member for business and investment, said: “We have worked tirelessly to address the issues with Coyne about Chapel Walk but now is the time for it to put all its efforts into completing its work. We are pleased it will remove the compound currently in place in time for Christmas on one of our most popular streets and would like to thank the traders who have shown such great patience and understanding. This situation has gone on for far too long, however we now need to focus on the completion of the development and getting rid of the scaffold and compound once and for all. We will continue working with Coyne as its development progresses.”
Coyne was approached for comment. The company previously admitted the delays were having a significant impact, stating: "Our aim is to finish this development, move residents in and start making a contribution to the local economy."