The ‘first in a new generation of city centres’ – that is the pledge for Sheffield being made by the council, bidding to overhaul the city’s shopping.
Simon Green from the council, and Brendan Moffett of Marketing Sheffield, say they are confident they have a positive plan for the city’s future.
The authority is currently working on an Interim Retail Plan for 2015-2019, aimed at finding uses for empty shops and making business rates low ‘where possible’.
An action plan is also being drawn up to ‘restore Sheffield to its rightful position in the UK rankings’ as well as differentiate the city’s shops from other centres.
And a city centre development fund is being created in the summer to ‘drive future retail development’.
Talking about their City Centre Vibrancy Report, which highlighted key trends around retail – such as lower and shifting footfall and low but increasing average spend in Sheffield – the pair said they wanted to drive the city forward.
Mr Green, executive director of ‘place’ for Sheffield Council, said: “We want to be the first of the new rather than the last of the old.
“The city centre has leisure, eating and events. The events we have put on have been a phenomenal success.”
Mr Moffett said: “There’s a real opportunity for Sheffield to be the first of a new generation of city centres. There’s a chance to embrace that change rather than be stuck with what a lot of places have got, an old model – we call it the Derby effect – the development of a shopping mall in the city centre which is closed at night and offers little interaction.
“We are keen to build on the old street access, providing that pleasant, interaction-based feel, rather than being a separate retail mall.”
Though the City Centre Vibrancy report showed a 4.7 per cent drop in footfall since last year, the pair said latest figures – comparing the first four months of 2014 with the first four of 2013 – show footfall has ‘stabilised’ and now stands almost level at 0.01 per cent down.
They also said the facelift of The Moor created a spike in footfall for that area, explaining why Fargate and Division Street’s footfall were down - but acknowledged shopping trends do change.
Mr Moffett said: “The footfall reports are always snapshots in time at a particular time. If you look at the wider picture compared to other regional cities, and the national picture, the overarching picture is it’s pretty static.
“We have had the first four months of 2014 data compared to 2013. It’s actually 0.01 per cent down. It’s very marginal and quite stable. Nationally, footfall is probably down across the UK over the last 10 years. Some of the more macro factors such as migration to the internet are out of our control.
“The report was looking at a time very soon after the Moor Market opened. It was probably a spike in footfall at that time and it’s probably more spread now across the city centre.”
Mr Green added: “I think shopping patterns always evolve. Shopping trends in terms of retailers’ pecking order always change. Working with Scottish Widows, we worked really hard to develop The Moor.
“If I was a retailer, I would see adding footfall to The Moor as very good news. The point is there is still the same number of people in Sheffield shopping.” The report also outlined that 47 per cent of transaction values were still below £15, while more than 50 per cent of shops surveyed said customer numbers had fallen year-on-year.
But it also said 55 per cent reported a turnover that was level or had increased year-on-year, and half of those surveyed reported their figures for Sheffield were in line with regional trends.
Though the £11 to £15 average spend is less than half of what it should be – a target of £30 to £40 – Mr Green said the fact spending is up from a £5 average in 2012 is a positive, despite the survey’s small sample size.
He added: “It’s encouraging the spend figures are increasing. I think there are a couple of factors behind that. One is generally better economic conditions. That loosens the purse strings.
“The second is there have been some new investments in the city which are going to create more things for people to spend money on, for example the new bar in Division Street, Brewdog.”
Sheffield shopper Lena Peters, aged 20, of Nether Edge, called on the council to push through more ‘experience-based shopping’.
She said: “Shopping in Sheffield is rubbish. If you look at Sheffield’s size compared to other cities, Sheffield’s shops are one street. If I wanted go to shopping, I would go to Meadowhall.
“I work in Waterstones and the reason we have people coming in is because of our experience and knowledge, because you can help them find books. It’s more of an experience. I think experience-based shopping is the future if shops want to stay open.”
Jayne Hamilton, aged 56, from Chesterfield, who works in Sheffield centre, said: “I feel it’s lacking so much in nice shops and cultural shops.
“Meadowhall’s shops are a lot nicer. I work for an optician’s and a lot of people I encourage to try on glasses are on benefits. It’s a poor area.”
But Sheffield Council underlined its commitment to improving retail in the centre.
A spokesman added: “A vibrant city centre is really important to us.
“April figures show we’re narrowing the footfall gap against the national position.
“We’ve got huge plans for future retail development. We’re launching a city centre development fund in the summer to drive future retail development.
“Sheffield Council and partners are developing an Interim Retail Plan for 2015-2019 – working closely with retail experts on ‘meanwhile uses’ for vacant premises, using tactics such as minimising business rates where possible. The action plan will restore Sheffield to its rightful position in the UK rankings but also differentiate it from the plethora of cities with very similar city centre offers.”
Mr Moffett added: “We have weathered a tough economic climate nationally and come through it in decent shape. We have managed to stabilise footfall. We have put on more city centre events.
“Now it’s about going to the next level in the coming five to 10 years.”