DEVELOPERS have ended months of uncertainty over Sheffield’s long-delayed £600 million retail development - pledging £15m to secure the project.
The Sevenstone scheme has been on hold since 2008 but action needs to be taken before compulsory purchase orders on city centre properties expire in July.
A Sheffield Council plan to secure the site with a £20m fund was drawn up last January but fell apart after the new Coalition Government suspended its financial input.
Now developers Hammerson have agreed to pay between £10m and £15m to buy the land - and will pay the interest on a further £10m to be funded by council borrowing.
Council leader Paul Scriven said the move was “the biggest step forward” in the project’s history and said construction could start in 2013 or 2014.
But traders who have struggled since the plans were first proposed a decade ago said the move comes far too late.
Council chief executive John Mothersole said: “I would have liked to have been saying the new retail quarter is opening today. But nevertheless I am pleased to be saying we are going ahead, and going ahead with private investment.
“The council input is not a subsidy for Hammerson. We are borrowing £10m to buy property in the heart of the fourth biggest city in England.
“Hammerson will pay the interest on that borrowing, irrespective of whether they start on site. If the scheme does not go ahead we will still own the land.
“Our only risk is if land and property prices fall significantly and the scheme doesn’t go ahead.”
He praised Hammerson, who have already spent £60m on the scheme, and added: “There have been plenty of chances to walk away - and no one has done that.”
Federation of Small Businesses Sheffield organiser Neville Martin said the move had come “around three years too late” - with businesses in the area left to struggle surrounded by empty units.
But Hammerson project director Richard Brown said: “City centre schemes take time and tenacity. They are complicated and obviously they are expensive.
“We have been here a long time and we are still here, in the final stages of trying to get the agreement closed down.”
Ross Bingham, of JB Printing on Wellington Street, said he was sceptical the scheme would reach completion.
“We have letters going back to 1999 talking about this project but so little has actually been achieved,” he said.
n TOWN Hall bosses are planning to take direct control of the stalled indoor market development on The Moor, with the aim of opening its doors by the end of 2013.
Sheffield Council is take the lease of the cleared Moorfoot site back from Scottish Widows, taking charge of construction and design for the new development.
The authority will spend £18m on the project, funded by £16.73m of prudential borrowing and £1.3m from the predicted sale Castle Market.
In return Scottish Widows has committed to building eight new shops in front of the new market and paying for the refurbishment of the Upper Moor.
The council will also extend Scottish Widows’ lease for the rest of The Moor to 250 years.
The whole plan is to go before the council’s cabinet for approval next Wednesday.