The view from Steel City: Mega-mall Meadowhall ready for the next chapter in its story

Darren Pearce, Centre Director at Meadowhall Sheffield
Darren Pearce, Centre Director at Meadowhall Sheffield
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Known as one of the ‘super regional’ shopping centres, Meadowhall is planning to expand its floorspace by a fifth. David Walsh reports.

Meadowhall will soon go public on the most ambitious development since it opened 26 years ago – a massive new leisure extension.

The all-conquering mega-mall has plans for a new wing, a fifth the size of the existing floorspace, to include a second cinema, restaurants and bars.

Public consultation will start in June ahead of a planning application in summer. The project is likely to cost hundreds of millions of pounds and create thousands of jobs, especially if seasonal positions are included.

News of the plan caught owners British Land off-guard when it came out in November. It was mentioned in a single line near the bottom of a long company report that clearly no one outside the firm was expected to read.

But one person did read it – David Parsley at Property Week – and soon after it was all over the internet. British Land then revealed it had already had “very positive” talks with Sheffield City Council and a planning application was due in the middle of 2016. That day is nearly here.

What will be its fate, given that Sheffield City Council has a history of refusing planning applications for projects that could damage the city centre?

If granted, how long will it take to build, what will be in it and when will it open?

And finally, what will be its impact? Everything about Meadowhall is vast – it boasts almost 300 shops, employs 6,000, rising to 8,500 at Christmas, and welcomes 25m shoppers every year.

It pays 18 per cent of all the business rates collected by Sheffield City Council – some £36m –the other 18,000 companies pay the rest.

Meanwhile, accountants PwC reckon that, including those in the supply chain, one job in every 100 in Sheffield City Region is directly supported through the mall’s activities.

These figures apply even before a £60m refurbishment that created 400 jobs is finally unveiled.

As one of only six ‘super regional’ shopping centres it is in the same league as Trafford in Manchester and Bluewater in Kent.

Its impact is felt right across the region and well into Leeds. (And if the Government builds an HS2 station next door, as per current plans, its already huge catchment of 4m people will extend all the way down to London).

But it is Sheffield city centre that will feel it most. It is more than 12 years since plans for a new retail quarter were unveiled – and they are still on the drawing board.

A recession has come and gone. So has the original developer, Hammerson, which was thrown off the job for failing to get started. How much of this is due to Meadowhall, just over the horizon, hoovering up shoppers’ cash?

Who knows – but the city council has to live with it. Slowly but surely it is putting together a plan for a £480m retail quarter featuring a flagship John Lewis store. And a scheme will doubtless happen.

A short walk away, The Moor pedestrian shopping area is being transformed by a host of new developments including a new indoor market and a cinema.

And last month the final building in the £200m Heart of the City scheme was completed. Student flat schemes are also popping up.

The council clearly welcomes development projects and helps to make them happen. It’s just that some take longer than others.