Retail quarter pays price of downturn

Window dressing: Students at work in a shop on Pinstone Street at the launch of the Sheffield Showcase initiative.
Window dressing: Students at work in a shop on Pinstone Street at the launch of the Sheffield Showcase initiative.
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More than one in four shops are empty across much of South Yorkshire and the number could be about to increase, according to a new report by the Local Data Company.

Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster are listed among the ten hardest hit larger shopping centres in the UK.

But, says Robert Lane, newly appointed chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership’s Retail Forum, the picture may not be as gloomy as the statistics paint.

Mr Lane, who heads Sheffield-based property consultancy Lane Walker, says that whilst Rotherham town centre does have a problem, the figures for Sheffield and Doncaster are skewed by development projects.

Rotherham has suffered worse than any other large shopping centre, with the number of empty shops rising by almost 14 per cent, which means 28 out of every 100 shops in the town centre area now empty.

That’s more than twice the rate of increase in central Sheffield, but the city still has the second highest vacancy rate for any major centre in the country, ranked alongside Walsall with just under 27 empty shops for every 100.

The number of empty shops in Doncaster and Barnsley increased by one per cent to leave nearly 25 per cent in Doncaster unoccupied and around 18 per cent in Barnsley.

“Sheffield’s position has been distorted by the fact that we have two or three potential shopping schemes that have been delayed by the downturn, while in Doncaster, new supply came onto the market just when retail demand was dropping,” says Mr Lane.

“Shops in Rotherham town centre are difficult to let because Retail World in Parkgate is so strong and you can get virtually everything you want to buy there.”

Mr Lane says Sheffield fails to attract some major national chains because it doesn’t have shops big enough to meet their needs – an issue Hammerson’s stalled Sevenstone scheme is meant to address.

He points to the fact that there are no shops available in the city’s prime shopping area of Fargate and High Street, while his own company has recently let three shops in Pinstone Street.

“I think Sheffield isn’t in a bad situation,” says Mr Lane, adding that estimates suggest the city need another 750,000 sq ft of large scale shops if it is to tap in to demand. According to the Local Data Company report, Chesterfield had the lowest vacancy rate of any of the larger centres in the region with just over 14 per cent of shops empty, an increase of 1.3 per cent over the last year.

Mexborough actually recorded a 1 per cent fall in shop vacancies to just under 14 per cent, while Worksop was static at 17 per cent and Mansfield recorded a 1.6 per cent rise to just under 17 per cent.