Next’s ‘shocking’ treatment

Artist's impression of proposed Next Home store at Meadowhall.
Artist's impression of proposed Next Home store at Meadowhall.
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The chief executive of Next has accused Sheffield Council of ‘shocking’ conduct over the handling of its application for a home and garden store at Meadowhall.

Lord Simon Wolfson spoke out after a planning inspector approved the store proposals, for a site on Vulcan Road, on appeal.

The decision followed a public inquiry to look into the council’s initial refusal of planning permission due to fears of potential harm to the city centre.

Planning inspector David Wildsmith rejected the council’s arguments, saying the impact on the city centre would be minimal and there was no suitable alternative site close to the middle of Sheffield.

The council had said Next should take on a site currently occupied by Staples, on St Mary’s Gate.

But Lord Wolfson said: “Sheffield Council should stop wasting its time trying to prevent investment in the city and instead focus on revitalising the city centre.”

He added: “Throughout this process we have found the conduct of the senior planning team nothing short of shocking.

“Emails obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request made it clear both the case officer and policy officer were unable to find reasons to refuse our application.

“Nonetheless, planning bosses insisted on refusal, costing ratepayers a lengthy and needless appeal process.

“They were all over the place. First they say our new store will damage the city centre. Then, on appeal, they drop the argument - they could produce no evidence to support their claim.

“Then they argue we should build our shop on a site that was simply too small - a location they must have known was commercially impossible.

“Their arguments were rightly rejected.”

But he promised: “Despite our experience, Next remains enthusiastic to invest in the city centre. But we have little confidence the council’s senior officers will deliver necessary changes.”