'I can’t sugarcoat the loss of John Lewis in the short term' - Business chief on why Sheffield city centre needs a resurrection

After three lockdowns, scores of deserted streets and too many shop closures, Sheffield city centre needs a resurrection.

By Rob Hollingworth
Wednesday, 31st March 2021, 1:02 pm

That’s the view of Business Improvement District manager Diane Jarvis, who was heartbroken by the closure of John Lewis, but remains optimistic about the city centre’s future.

“Our hearts go out to people affected by the John Lewis decision,” she says. “The store was part of Sheffield’s identity as Cole Brothers, so there’s sadness and anger, people feel passionate about it.

“But the high street is evolving and there is opportunity for it. I can’t sugarcoat the loss of John Lewis in the short term, but there is so much going on which gives us hope for the future.”

Which is why she cannot wait for April 12, when step two of easing lockdown restrictions is due to begin.

Non-essential shops are planning to re-open, pubs and restaurants with outdoor spaces could be serving customers, we might even get a haircut.

"We've had a year of closures, minimal footfall and no tourism,” says Diane. "We need a resurrection urgently so the dates for lifting lockdown restrictions were welcome and positive.

"We need to crack on and get open again because over the last 20 years the city centre has experienced a dramatic transformation."

That transformation has included the Peace Gardens, The Moor, the Winter Gardens, Sheffield train station forecourt and St Paul's Tower.

Finally, after many false starts, the Heart of the City scheme is also going at pace in the Pinstone Street area and during lockdown there have been significant developments which could shape the city centre of the future.

Most recently, the company behind some of the city’s favourite food venues, The Milestone, was been chosen to run Cambridge Street Collective, a diverse food destination to feature a contemporary food hall, cookery school and fine dining experience.

The Moor is now owned by NewRiver and future plans could include building up to 1,400 flats and demolishing Debenhams. New River bosses say filling empty shops and boosting footfall after lockdown are the top priorities - a message which delights Diane.

She said: "The Moor has popular shops and a good leisure offer. I'm confident the numbers will rebuild. The new owner has given us confidence that they will enhance The Moor's offer and there will be a good partnership between them and the city."

Sheffield Council won £15.8milion from The Future High Street Fund to invest in Fargate and the surrounding area. The plan is to drive city centre living and create a cultural hub.

"We have been saying these areas need to be social spaces, destinations,” says Diane.

“The pandemic put that on hold so the challenge now is to find a social experience and work done on Fargate and surrounding areas will drive this forward.

"It will provide a facelift and encourage community activities for adults and children."

Plans to build a 39-storey skyscraper on the former Primark site were backed and a scheme for a 23-storey building called The Meridian at the junction of Farm Road and Queens Road has been submitted.

The Pound's Park blueprint for the old fire station site on land between Wellington Street, Rockingham Street and Carver Street would create a 6,000-metre square space.

And a developer has been chosen to refurbish Leah's Yard, one of the most iconic heritage sites, to create a hub for independent retailers in Cambridge Street.

Much potential, but Diane recognises there is still a lot to do to build back from the pandemic. She says the BID team, which has just been re-elected to serve the city centre for another five years, is constantly thinking about what happens next.

"The theme for the city centre is how do you drive a vibrant city centre. Vibrancy is crucial to recovery."

She says developments around Castlegate are promising. “It moved the physical dislocations in the city centre because it had felt quite elongated. In previous years, it felt like different areas. The new plans will improve the city centre experience.

"Now there is a new way of living and shopping and that's where vibrancy comes into it. There's no single answer, you need a reason to use the city centre.

"Before the pandemic we had made huge strides, improving the leisure and cultural offer.

"The city centre was on the up before the pandemic hit so what next?

“An attractive public realm, well-managed physical environment, good access, diverse hotel, residential and cultural offers will encourage people to explore the city centre.

"We've got all the right ingredients because leisure and culture will drive people to the city centre."

Planned activities include the Bears of Sheffield - a sculpture trail in aid of the Children’s Hospital - Restaurant Week and a fashion ball.

Diane is also keen to stress the city centre will continue to be a workplace.

"I don't believe the office is dead,” she said. “People may choose to work from home on some days but we could also see great demand to provide quality office space.

"The question of the city centre as a location is a great opportunity to build on its vibrancy.

"It is widely acknowledged that retail and hospitality have been hardest hit by the pandemic. We also need to recognise the importance of cultural tourism and sustain our festivals.

"We have to rebuild and are working in partnership with the universities and the council to do that. So let's re-open and crack on."

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