Build it or bust - Sevenstone ultimatum to Hammerson

Artist's impression of original Sevenstone plans
Artist's impression of original Sevenstone plans
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The developer behind Sheffield’s planned multi-million pound shopping centre Sevenstone has been ordered to commit to a completion date by the end of May – or be axed.

Sheffield Council has told Hammerson that unless it makes a firm commitment to begin work on the long-delayed shopping scheme, another developer will be sought.

And the council is already looking at alternative proposals to bring the £600 million retail dream to reality, including splitting the site into numerous ‘parcels’ and inviting several firms to build the pieces.

The Star understands the sticking point preventing Hammerson committing is who bears the ‘risk’ of about £30m to be borrowed against future business rates.

There is the possibility there will not be enough money to cover repayments if insufficient retailers snap up space within the development.

John Mothersole, council chief executive, said: “The council is engaged in intensive discussions with Hammerson which will hopefully confirm the new retail quarter is being brought forward.

“We can’t rule out the possibility agreement cannot be reached in the near future.

“In which case we cannot wait, and will have to move on with an alternative approach.

“We do want to deal with Hammerson and hope the near future will see a conclusion.”

Alternatives involve bringing in a new developer for the whole scheme, or breaking Sevenstone into smaller schemes to be built by different developers.

The advantage of splitting up the project would be to spread the risk across several developers, making it more attractive.

However, such an approach could scupper the new John Lewis department store planned as part of the development. Anchor stores typically have a lower rent, subsidised by smaller stores, and there would be fewer smaller stores under the plan.

The ultimatum comes as the date is set for Next’s public inquiry into plans for a home and garden store near Meadowhall.

The scheme was refused planning permission by the council, in case it affected Sevenstone.

The inquiry, starting tomorrow and headed by a Government planning inspector, will consider an appeal against the council’s decision.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam, has called on the council to ensure there are no further delays to Sevenstone – and to ‘embrace’ the Next scheme as well as plans for an Ikea on Sheffield Road, Carbrook.

In a letter to council leader Coun Julie Dore, he said: “It is vital Sheffield does not miss these opportunities to create nearly 2,000 new local jobs.

“I would recommend you work with Ikea to overcome any planning issues, open negotiations with Next to see how they could go ahead with their investment, and invite other developers to look at delivering Sevenstone.”

Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, who has also criticised the long delays to Sevenstone - which was first announced in 2005 with a target opening of 2009 - has welcomed progress.

Mr Wright, who previously accused the council and Hammerson of allowing Sheffield to ‘go backwards’, said: “If Sevenstone goes ahead with Hammerson, I would be delighted.”