MORE than one quarter of shops in Sheffield city centre are standing empty - as city leaders prepare for showdown talks about the new Sevenstone retail quarter.
According to new statistics, 26.1 per cent of Sheffield shops are vacant - the sixth worst figure of any city or town in Britain, and a three per cent rise on last year.
Sheffield Council insisted the figure is high because of shops which are empty awaiting Sevenstone - but 13.8 per cent of stores are still empty even outside the area covered by the scheme between The Moor, Pinstone Street and Barker’s Pool.
Shoppers told The Star they are ‘shocked’ by the number of empty units.
Sharon Hibberd, out shopping in the city centre with her sister, said: “The city centre is a bit grim.”
Many units have been vacant for years after being bought up for the new retail quarter - but the situation has been compounded by other businesses closing after struggling in the recession.
The gloomy picture in Sheffield contrasts sharply with Chesterfield, which recorded a drop in its number of empty shops to just 8.7 per cent.
It scored third most highly of 506 places surveyed in the Local Data Company’s study.
Suzanne Liversidge, president of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, said: “It is extremely disappointing to hear of more closures.
“A strong retail offering in our city is essential for Sheffield. Our membership includes a variety of independent retailers, all trying to thrive and offer a real choice.
“The Sheffield community, businesses and the council needs more than ever to support retailers and help maintain a strong city centre offer we can be proud of.”
Some of the vacant shops in the Sevenstone area have reopened on short-term leases, and work is progressing to bring another unit on Pinstone Street back into use.
But most remain empty, and Sheffield Council anticipates work on Sevenstone by developer Hammerson will not begin until late next year at the earliest.
Talks are to take place later this month between top councillors, officials, and management from Hammerson about when work will finally get underway on the new retail quarter.
Construction of the new markets has started, and the building at the top of the street, opposite Debenhams, is to be replaced with a new flagship three-storey retail unit.
A spokeswoman said: “We carry out regular audits of the main retail areas, and our figure taken last month shows 116 vacant units against a total of 836.”
Coun Leigh Bramall, Sheffield Council cabinet member for business, skills and development, said: “As a council we’re doing everything we can to attract people to the city’s retailers and also to open up new opportunities, the new Moor market development for example is now on site and will be open by the end of next year but we want to build on this momentum to attract more retailers and help the city centre flourish.
“Just like every city and town centre, Sheffield has seen some major national retailers close business, however, we are working hard to get spaces re-let and to keep the city centre animated and attract visitors - our city centre events programme attract thousands to the city centre each year.”