All eyes on Australia in bid to transform empty shops

Castle Market
Castle Market
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Council bosses are looking Down Under in a bid to tackle empty shops and regenerate Sheffield city centre.

Sheffield Council and Sheffield University are working on a ‘Renew’ scheme – modelled on a project in Newcastle, Australia – to ‘encourage new life in empty or underused buildings’.

The idea, which will focus initially on the Castlegate area around the former Castle Market site, originates from a visit to Sheffield by Marcus Westbury, the leader of a scheme in Australia which successfully revitalised the ailing steel city of Newcastle.

The scheme sees landlords offer boarded-up business units to a range of creative tenants free of charge – filling empty shops at the same time as showcasing their potential.

Its success saw Newcastle catapulted into one of the top destinations in the country.

Mr Westbury met university and council staff in February to discuss how the project could be replicated here, breathing new life into the city’s streets.

Though the scheme is in its early stages of development, the authority and the university are looking to adapt the scheme to Sheffield, taking into account local and national legislation such as business rates.

A Sheffield Council spokesman said: “Following the success of Mr Westbury’s visit to Sheffield in February we have been working with Sheffield University, landowners, agents and workspace providers to develop a similar ‘Renew’ organisation for Sheffield.

“This work will initially focus on the Castlegate area with a view to encouraging new life in empty or underused buildings.

“This transformation has begun with the recent letting of offices at Exchange Place to Yorkshire Artspace.

“We will continue to work to develop this further and hope it leads to a range of tenants filling empty shops and showcasing their potential.”

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Sheffield University head of engagement, said: “The university and the council are seriously considering the Australian model for Sheffield, with local and national differences taken into consideration, such as business rates and rent.

“It’s all about us being a part of a vibrant and engaged city.”