Why development should have gone ahead
Lord Simon Wolfson
Chief Executive, Next
“In October I visited Sheffield Council’s chief executive and his planning supremo. With me was Chris Grigg, chief executive of British Land. We wanted to invest £10 million in the city and create 125 new jobs for local people.
Last month, Sheffield Council refused planning permission. In doing so, it scrapped that investment and destroyed those new jobs.
We wanted to build a large home furnishings store on waste land close to Meadowhall. It would have been the largest Next of its kind in Britain, and brought customers to Sheffield from far and wide.
In addition to ranges our customers expect - sofas, furniture, bedding and lighting - we would have added fitted kitchens, DIY equipment, wallpaper, paints, wooden flooring, tiles, bathrooms, even a garden section.
We find it hard to understand why planning officials worked so hard to persuade Sheffield’s councillors to vote against these new jobs.
Maybe they thought we could build it somewhere better? We diligently searched for other suitable sites in and around the city. They were too small, too out of the way, too hard get to, had too few parking spaces, and some were simply unavailable.
We were staggered by the reasoning deployed by Sheffield’s planners. They felt our new store would undermine ‘investor confidence’ in the city centre. But we understand there was only one objection along these lines. I suspect they were simply opposed to any development in or around Meadowhall.
But preventing us building a home furnishings store on the outskirts does nothing to improve the chances of us or anyone building a clothing store in the town centre.
In my view their misguided belief goes a long way to explaining the sorry state of Sheffield city centre’s shopping.
For too long Meadowhall has been blamed for the city centre’s failure. It’s a convenient excuse, but won’t wash. Just look at the other great cities. Manchester built its Arndale extension despite a massive out-of-town Trafford Centre. Leicester, Newcastle, Leeds, Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow, Cardiff and Bristol all transformed their city centres despite out-of-town centres.
Sheffield is the only big British city to have done so little.
Next and many others would love to build bigger, better fashion shops in Sheffield. But there are simply no well-located large units. Stores are too few, too disparate and too small.
I believe Sheffield can have a vibrant retail heart. But such redevelopment requires planners to have vision, energy, confidence and sound commercial judgement. To me, as a potential investor, this decision to block growth sends entirely the wrong message. It looks as though the city is closing its doors to business at the worst possible time.
We are, of course, preparing to appeal this sad decision. We hope an independent planning inspector will see the strong merits of our chosen location and our desire to create jobs and economic prosperity in a city which needs companies like ours to bring forward investment.
We are enthusiastic to back Sheffield and invest in this great city, both on the edge and in the centre. Our only hope is that we be given the chance.”
Why the Next development should not have gone ahead
Chief Executive, Council
“Sheffield Council has taken the decision not to agree to a proposed Next development at an out-of-town development and we believe we were right to do so.
Some will not like that decision but our policies are clear and we are clear in our resolve to follow them.
Why did we take that decision? It is quite simple. We need to make the right decisions for the future wellbeing of the city as a whole, and not be blinkered into isolated developments. We believe a thriving commercial and civic city centre is key to all our ambitions to grow the wider economy.
Everyone knows the retail offer in the city centre needs improving. A better offer also means we could attract office, leisure and cultural companies to add a wider mix and appeal.
While I am not going to comment on the Next decision in any detail, what I will point out is our policy shows that for very good reasons we are very concerned about further expansion of out-of-town retail at the present time, to ensure we protect efforts to secure the retail developments the city centre badly needs.
Our planning policies were set following full consultation years ago. Everyone knows about them.
It is ironic that during the course of this debate some take issue with this approach when at the same time they say our city centre needs to be better and with household names that could help that recovery gather pace.
Sheffield wants and needs the city centre to bounce back. We’re moving ahead with key schemes to make us a more attractive destination for investors.
Some have already seen the appeal. A major national investor in Scottish Widows is investing millions right now in The Moor. The new market will be based there and we remain committed to delivering a further new retail quarter to boost our retail choices.
Chapel Walk is being rejuvenated under a new scheme to attract new, independent retailers to set up shop while we have thrown our weight behind the new Enterprise Zone to attract businesses to the Sheffield city region.
In the course of the debate about Next, I have heard it said Sheffield is closed to business. This is nonsense.
Sheffield Council is business-friendly and focused on driving business opportunities in the city even faced with some of the toughest financial times in living memory.
Each year, the council supports over 2,000 start-up or existing businesses via its First Point For Business service, gives intensive support to help 200 existing small and medium companies to grow, and help around another 150 firms to get on their feet.
On top, the city’s economic development agency Creative Sheffield has supported 47 successful investments from existing companies in Sheffield or new investors into the city during 2012, 750 jobs have either been created or safeguarded, 200 young people are now apprentices who would not have had the chance before.
Let’s not forget the importance of the City Deal, designed by the city region and led by Sheffield and the Local Enterprise Partnership. Launching in the new year, it will see the most innovative apprenticeship and skills programme in the country delivered.
We have approved a new Sheffield Investment Fund to bring forward key developments that are currently ‘stuck’ because finance is not available at reasonable rates from the banks.
This is just a snapshot of what the council is doing, our thinking and our aspirations. If Next wish to invest in sites in and around the city centre, in line with our policy, we will welcome them with open arms.
What we cannot do is allow a further out-of-town development, against policy, and which we believe would contribute to undermining not just the retail future of the city centre, but consequently its overall commercial future.”