Anyone would be forgiven for pinching themselves. In the middle of Sheffield, on a spot once occupied by a grey roundabout and a bleak-looking hotel, sits a glitzy building that represents a 20-year dream beginning to come to fruition.
“It’s been such a long time coming,” says Nick Jones, director of project management at Turner & Townsend, the company that has steered the first phase of Heart of the City II, a £500 million development bringing new shops, hotels, Grade A offices, welcoming public spaces and more on 1.5 million sq ft of land.
The initial £85m block is expected to be finished in January, providing a base for 2,700 HSBC bank workers on top of commercial units covering 60,000 sq ft. The glass-fronted, terracotta-panelled Grosvenor House – a nod to the old Grosvenor House Hotel which was demolished to clear the site – faces Debenhams and The Light cinema across a radically revamped Charter Square, brightened up with benches, trees, flowers and jagged stone boulders, soon to be joined by an intriguing ‘garden terrace’.
“I think it’s probably one of the most important developments that’s happened in Sheffield in at least the last 10 years,” says Nick. “No-one’s built this level of density of office space in one building.”
Turner & Townsend is one of 46 businesses that make up the Sheffield Property Association. The Star is focusing on the mission of the SPA – which aims to be the city’s ‘collective voice of property’ and was the first organisation of its kind outside the capital – through a series of features looking at major ventures backed by its members, a diverse group including construction firms, the universities, planning consultants, solicitors and commercial agents.
The imminent completion of Grosvenor House – and Heart of the City II generally – is ‘fantastic news’ for the association, says Nick. “What we want to see, the same as most people in Sheffield, is the city centre transforming quickly. I think it’s fair to say it has deteriorated to an extent over the last few years. This is the birth of the new Sheffield city centre and hopefully it provides us with some real traction. It will help entice people in.”
As long ago as 1998 a council plan was adopted that made this regeneration a key ambition, but there have been several false starts.
Today’s vision is the successor to Sevenstone, the proposed shopping district that stalled during the recession and was dropped five years ago when the council parted ways with developer Hammerson and opted to go it alone. Its name has also changed from the Sheffield Retail Quarter, shifting the focus away from a reliance on stores and towards a mix of uses, a move that reflects consumers' increasing preference for buying things online. The first Heart of the City brought the Winter Garden, Millennium Gallery, Peace Gardens and the offices of St Paul's Place.
The city council is acting as the developer for Grosvenor House. HSBC ran a competition calling for proposals to relocate its staff from the huge Pennine Centre, which dates from the 1970s on Tenter Street near West Bar.
“We helped the council prepare their bid, and the feedback they got was really good,” Nick says. “Why would HSBC choose to be anywhere else other than slap bang in the city centre? It makes sense for them.”
The banking giant was interested in the bigger picture too, and realised it would be the ‘anchor’, he explains.
“As well as retaining all the jobs in the city centre that comes with doing a pre-let with HSBC, it's also about momentum. This is on site, and hopefully the rest of it is going to follow pretty shortly.”
A masterplan document has been produced fleshing out some of the principles behind the scheme and restating the remaining sections’ intended uses. Ahead of another planning application, a public consultation has begun on the next two buildings to be brought forward – blocks B and C in the blueprint. The blocks, which involve keeping existing premises known as Laycock House and the Pepper Pot, will sit either side of Charles Street along Pinstone Street.
The proposal is to retain Laycock House itself – a strong example of a Victorian building that has survived virtually unaltered – but to demolish the rest and create a brand-new building in its place. In total, this entire block would contain up to nine retail units on the ground floor, fronting on to Pinstone Street, with residential space above. Fifty apartments are planned across seven floors, ranging from studios to three-bed apartments. There are separate plans for the distinctive former Salvation Army Citadel nearby.
The Pepper Pot is further down Pinstone Street towards The Moor. The idea is to keep the exterior, but completely rebuild everything behind it to create a new office building with five retail units on the ground floor. The development would step up in height, from three storeys to eight storeys, including more than 37,500 sq ft of Grade A offices.
Taken together, phase one and blocks B and C will provide around 67,500 sq ft of retail space - as many as 22 new units - 200,000 sq ft of offices and 37,000 sq ft of residential accommodation.
Elsewhere, the listed, disused Leah’s Yard workshop on Cambridge Street is to become a high-end food hall and the idea of a new library somewhere in the mix has been mooted.
“There’s quite a lot to be done,” says Nick.
There are still no names attached to the shops and cafés in Grosvenor House – a smaller ‘pod’ in the square outside the main building will also contain at least two food outlets. Queensberry, the council’s strategic development partner, is talking to potential tenants, and Nick agrees their sights will be trained on quality occupiers. “I would hope so. That all remains confidential until agreements for leases are signed.”
The offices will be fitted out to HSBC’s specifications, but the standard will be comparable to the luxurious environment of St Paul’s Place.
“There’s going to be a lot of spending power in that building and that’s what Sheffield needs to keep it moving forward positively,” Nick says. “It’s not about viability, it’s about driving footfall. There’s going to be hundreds of staff sitting in the office, needing somewhere to go and get their sandwiches every lunchtime, or new suits and shoes, stuff for their kids – being able to pop out.
“Whereas at the minute they’re a bit remote from the city centre. It puts them right in the centre of it. The greater density of people we have in the city centre the more it’s going to thrive.”
Grosvenor House has benefited from a ‘strong team’, he points out. Turner & Townsend has been based in Sheffield for 40 years, a timespan engineers Arup can match, and architects Leonard Design are down the M1 in Nottingham.
“I have to say, everyone’s really pulled the stops out on it. Come January, we hope we’re standing here taking photographs of all the hoardings coming down and it’s been the perfect job.”
It was ‘a very difficult site to build on’, he points out; the roundabout and underpass needing filling in, and the road had to be diverted. “It’s very constrained, there’s not a lot of working space.”
However, the scheme is within budget and on time, construction having started in May 2017 – and realigning the highway created the opportunity for the square, which was well-used by people seeking a place to sit in the heatwave. “I do genuinely think Sheffield’s public realm is exceptional. It takes a step up each time.”
Turner & Townsend is on board as project and cost managers on the rest of Heart of the City II. Like everyone else involved, Nick is closely following the upheavals on the high street as the retail sector comes under tremendous pressure, but Sheffield is safeguarding its future, he suggests.
“The environment is changing for city centres a bit,” Nick says. “There’s been a lot in the press about retail, but this relies on a mix of uses to make it successful. It’s a big statement of intent from the council. It’s hugely important for the city.”
People can see the proposals for Laycock House and the Pepper Pot, and give their views to the project team, on Tuesday from 4.30pm to 7pm at The Art House on Backfields, and on Wednesday from 11.30am to 4pm at the Winter Garden.