Chief executive of Sheffield Council answers Star reader questions about city’s future: Part one

Sheffield Council chief executive John Mothersole
Sheffield Council chief executive John Mothersole
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Sheffield will be the ‘envy’ of UK cities as it transforms its roads, streets and city centre over the next five years.

Sheffield Council chief executive John Mothersole, pictured, has laid out his vision of the future of the city in an exclusive question and answer session with Star readers. He wants the new Retail Quarter ‘to absolutely transform the heart of the city centre with new shops, bars, restaurants and public spaces’. “We don’t want it to be just another identikit addition,” he said. Mr Mothersole said in five years’ time Sheffield would be recognised as the UK advanced manufacturing city.

“We’ll be the envy of other towns and cities,” he vowed.

Read part one of the Q&A session below, and pick up the Star on Thursday, May 26, for part two.

Q1: Where do you see Sheffield in five years

Charity worker Anthony Cunningham

Sheffield Retail Quarter artist impression

Sheffield Retail Quarter artist impression

“I always think with these ‘in five years’ time’ questions it is also worth looking back five years. You soon realise lots of things don’t change. So, in 2021, there will be lots about Sheffield which will not have changed and that’s a good thing … but some things will.

By then under current plans we will have an Elected Mayor for the City Region. That, along with the fact that we often overlook that this city is amongst a handful of UK cities with a devolution deal from government means that we will be up there as one of the leading cities. I do think things will be most different on the economic front.

We will by then be naturally recognised as the UK advanced manufacturing city. More big company names will be here. The city centre will continue to change. We will also be recognisable as the country’s ‘outdoor city’. More practically, we will be the envy of other towns and cities as will be benefitting from the new roads, pavements and street lights that we are well on the way to delivering.

Perhaps most importantly though, and based on current determination, we should be showing how you can grow a city and become fairer to its citizens. If we don’t get that right, then not a lot else really matters.”

Sheffield. Picture: Andrew Roe

Sheffield. Picture: Andrew Roe

Q2: Why have cities like Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Liverpool and Glasgow – cities which faced the same challenges as Sheffield – regenerated and sustained the momentum and Sheffield hasn’t?

Anne Bradford

“Statements like this one show that we need to get better at selling ourselves.

I know that some of the other big cities have shiny new city centres and therefore appear to be miles ahead.

Image of how the proposed new retail quarter for Sheffield could look.

Image of how the proposed new retail quarter for Sheffield could look.

In my job, I spend a fair amount of time in the other cities of the UK, and often find myself in discussion groups. Many years ago, I used to have to sit there and defend Sheffield whilst privately thinking I wish we could just catch up. Now, and it’s not just me who I have heard say this, I often have to just sit there and hear how other people complain to themselves why they have not got what Sheffield has achieved.

No city must ever think that the job is done, and there are undoubtedly elements of other cities that I wish we had in Sheffield. But there are lots of aspects of this city that I know others wished they had in their places. On the plus side, we have some fantastic public places particularly in our city centre.

How many times have you heard people be absolutely bowled over by the Peace Gardens and the space outside the station. We have a very, very high apprenticeship rate – the biggest of any English city – and employment in the city is good. Even on some of the more quirky surveys you find Sheffield scoring highly on things such as happiness, satisfaction with quality of life and being the UK’s top outdoor city according to Countryfile viewers. My point is that I don’t think it will be fair to Sheffield to see it as always lacking what other cities have. There are things in Sheffield that still need to be tackled or finished. We do need a bigger office sector; the city centre retail offer whilst improving all the time is still “work in progress”, and the debate over HS2 is one that I am absolutely convinced we are right to maintain.

In fact, the debate about HS2 is to make sure that Sheffield gets what other cities have been promised. In some respects, having the debate may look negative, but it does respond to your questioner’s point that Sheffield needs to make sure it fights on the same stage.

So, I’m pushing back slightly on this question in terms of seeing Sheffield as always behind. Every city is in front in some issues and behind in others, and Sheffield is no different. We just need to be continuously restless to make everything as best as it can be.”

Q3: Why is the council demolishing the buildings on Devonshire Green that we all campaigned to keep and, instead, building something that looks like everything else in this city and, no doubt, opening yet more chains!

Sheffield Moor Market

Sheffield Moor Market

Anne Bradford

“I think this development is like many in the city where some people think we should be saying no, and some people think we should be saying yes. I think as a Council we often find ourselves in the middle of those debates.

It is probably worth noting that the Council is not demolishing the building on Devonshire Green. The building in question is privately owned.

What the Council has done is approve the planning application that was made by the developers. When we are dealing with planning applications obviously we have to take everything into account, but it’s not as simple as the Council deciding what it likes and what it does not. If a proposal fits the policy and all other things being equal then we are likely to recommend that it should be allowed to go ahead.

I don’t want to come across as someone who is trying to ‘wash their hands’ of this one. We do have to be realistic though about what the Council can and cannot do, and please don’t read into that my views about this particular building. I am sure though that the new building, and particularly the shops that go in on the ground floor will continue to add to the excitement that is the Devonshire Quarter.”

Q4: When will we hear if John Lewis is moving as part of the Sheffield Retail Quarter plans?

Mandy Slater, Gleadless

“I know that Star readers have been waiting patiently for the new city centre shopping area for a long time. Since we unveiled the proposals for the Retail Quarter last year there have been lots of positive discussions.

The bottom line is that the retail scheme for Sheffield city centre has to be of the right quality. If we dumb it down, then we will live to regret it. Also, the scheme over the years has had to ride some very choppy economic water.

We have been working closely with John Lewis as the scheme develops and we do understand that any move is a massive decision for them. When the Retail Quarter opens, we want it to transform the heart of the city centre with shops, bars, restaurants and public spaces.

We don’t want it to be just another identikit addition. I know patience can wear thin, but please try and trust me that there has been an enormous amount of ‘behind the scenes’ work, recruiting a development partner, refine of the design, doing lots of preparatory work. I can’t speak for John Lewis, but they will only make a firm announcement when we together have an absolutely clear picture. Constant progress is being made and progress means that we are getting ever closer to that point.”

Q5: How you can justify moving the whole Markets area away from its historical position and in so doing destroy a traditional working class shopping area, forever, in the belief that there may be a castle under the Market foundations?

Judd Newton, Burncross

“We didn’t move the market because we believe there might be a castle under its foundations. We moved the market because, although Castle Market was popular, it was declining in popularity and many of the market traders told us it was very hard to sustain the markets in that condition. We absolutely believe that the city centre should have a good market. If we did not, then we would not have put the time and huge effort into moving it. The move to the Moor is designed to make sure that Sheffield Markets is close to where the main shopping is taking place in the city centre. All cities change, and Sheffield city centre has changed as well and Castlegate was in danger of being left out on a limb. I shop in the Moor Market just about every weekend and I do notice it is getting increasingly busy. It was the right move and as the Moor redefines itself then so the markets will succeed even more.

In terms of Castlegate, now that we have moved the markets we can start to take account of what might be there. We plan to uncover the River Sheaf, create a new urban park on the Castle site and then to offer commercial development in that area. It is a great chance to celebrate the excellent work that was done in the canal basin many years ago, and if we all remember the old Castlegate market in effect turned its back on that development. We can now put that right.”

Q6: When are planning officers going to develop a plan as to how they want Sheffield to be rather than a mish-mash of what developers want to build?

Ronald Hardy, Chapeltown

“We are in fact working on a plan which sets out how we can tackle the challenge of growth in the city.

We have set out ambitious but realistic plans to grow and generate many more jobs, creating an economy that can adapt to global trends. However, with this comes the challenge of more people which creates a greater demand on housing, transport infrastructure, schools and other related services. But we also need to look at the city’s offer by creating the right kind of city centre, maximising our fantastic outdoor opportunities and mix of social and cultural activities.

We’re calling this the Sheffield Plan. We have in fact already finished the first stage of city-wide consultation at the end of last year. We’re planning to have a more detailed debate around how as a city we grow later this year.

This is about a shared vision for our city and an opportunity to grow, but to do this in the right way for Sheffield, in a way that Sheffield wants, capturing every aspect of working and living in Sheffield and moving this forward in a planned approach.”