City centre councillors, police, business owners and residents united last night to send out a clear message: everyone must work together to transform the area.
Sheffield City Centre Residents’ Action Group pointed to the fact that just one in five city centre residents voted in May as reason to strive for unity in order to tackle the area’s key issues.
Restoring great buildings, attracting jobs, striking a balance between small and big business, tackling street drinking, getting more people to vote and engaging people in developments were six key points raised.
The solutions won’t be easy, but there was a clear desire to collaborate to better the city.
Diana Stimely, of the Friends of Sheffield Old Town Hall, said: “We have a fabulous city. We have been through all kinds of things but we have managed to continue to keep our city moving.”
It might not have been the biggest meeting in terms of attendance last night (June 14), but the sense of determination to improve Sheffield was huge.
With representatives from the council, police and businesses, there was plenty to be said at last night’s meeting of the Sheffield City Centre Residents’ Action Group.
Most questions were directed at the councillors representing the city ward - redrawn for this year’s elections - with two new faces making clear their hopes and aspirations for where they live.
With two Green Party members and one Labour councillor, there is no guarantee of agreement on matter of policy. But there was clear consensus on one issue - the need to engage more city centre residents. Just 20 per cent of the 7,283 people eligible to vote in the city centre actually did vote, a figure which doesn’t include those such as foreign students who could not go to the polls.
Douglas Johnson, the new Green councillor, said: “What we do know is that the city centre is increasing massively in terms of population. But we had a very low turnout.
“We’ve got huge numbers of people who aren’t even registered. And of those who are there are relatively few who vote.
“The challenge is going to be making sure people living here feel part of the city centre and they also know they are living here, not just passing through.”
Leader of the Sheffield Greens Coun Rob Murphy said the city ward had shrunk, but was expected to grow again.
“We need to get a bit better representation to the people who live here,” he added.
And Coun Moya O’Rourke, a first time Labour councillor, said it was important for all councillors to know their voters- and those who lived in their ward who didn’t vote.
“I completely love Sheffield,” the 20-year-old student originally from Rochdale said. “That’s the reason I ended up here. It’s a brilliant city centre.”
Engaging with students like herself, as well as young professionals and people who rented in the city centre was key to encouraging more people to vote, Coun O’Rourke said.
A key discussion point was city centre development. With the new retail quarter at the planning stage, one member of the public asked what was being done to support independent shops - particularly given the council had approved plans to knock down a block including some of Devonshire Street’s best loved shops such as Race and Racy.
Coun Murphy said: “What we would like to see with Sheffield Retail Quarter is a unique shopping centre in Sheffield, not one that looks like all the others in the country.
“Sheffield has got some brilliant independent businesses and it’s up to the council to support those. It’s a hard battle against big business.”
Coun O’Rourke said it was ‘awful’ such shops could disappear. She added: “I don’t feel it’s a fair balance. It should be done better.”
And Coun Johnson said it was important for all opposed to such development to unite to show their strength of feeling.
He added: “Small businesses don’t come back once we get rid of them. That’s why the ones that are there now are so much more valuable.
“Where there is a will to challenge planning applications, it can be done.”