John Lewis: A year after Sheffield closure was announced MPs criticise £100m plans for football attraction

A year after the closure of John Lewis in Sheffield was announced MPs say £100m plans for a football attraction are ‘uninspiring’.

Wednesday, 23rd March 2022, 3:45 pm

The Star broke the bombshell news on March 24 2021, when the Barker’s Pool store was still closed in ‘lockdown 3’.

It never reopened and officially shut in June with the loss of 299 jobs.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE THE SHOP CLOSED?

Sign up to our Business newsletter

John Lews in Sheffield City Centre is set to close. Picture: Chris Etchells

Since then debate has raged about the future of the building and whether it should be reused or demolished - with the public firmly in favour of flattening it.

Read More

Read More
Recruitment company boss Lisa Brewster resigns from Brewster Partners after bein...

The council, which owns it, is now inviting bids, with a final decision due in summer.

One proposal is for ‘Sheffield Rules,’ a £100m football-based museum, cultural and wellbeing attraction, and block of flats. It is backed by a global sports brand, according to the scheme’s local promoters led by Adam Murray at planning firm Urbana.

John Lewis in Sheffield City Centre. Picture: Chris Etchells

WHY IS THERE SO MUCH SUPPORT FOR A FOOTBALL MUSEUM?

Sheffield has a proud footballing tradition and many ‘world firsts’ in the game including the first rules, the world’s oldest team, the oldest football association in England and the invention of the corner kick.

Promoting them to boost tourism has long been an ambition in the city.

But two Sheffield MPs who saw the plans - Paul Blomfield and Clive Betts - came away disappointed.

Now and Then - Barkers Pool and Cole Brothers & John Lewis

WHY WERE THE MPS DISAPPOINTED?

Clive Betts said the football museum was a ‘very small’ part and it was more like an ‘indoor fair’ with kicking balls through tyres before having fast food.

Designs showed two outdoor football pitches which he thought was inappropriate near the war memorial in Barker’s Pool.

And the two-storeys of footballing attraction were dwarfed by 10 storeys in a ‘major tower’ of flats above.

He said: “I was underwhelmed by what we were told. I’d like to see much better use of our heritage. I was looking for something relevant to our footballing history – and exciting – and got neither.

“The ball is in their court now, it’s up to them to come back with something inspirational.”

He suggested statues of famous players in a public garden, he added.

Paul Blomfield MP added: “This is a landmark site surrounded by new developments and facing the City Hall. We need to get the decision on its future right and what we were shown fell well short of what’s needed.

“As a football fan I’d love to celebrate Sheffield’s special place in the birth of the modern game, but a few football-linked attractions attached to a major residential development don’t even do that.

“We need something quite different that recognises the importance of this site to so many people.”

HOW DID THE SCHEME’S LOCAL PROMOTER RESPOND?

But Urbana boss Adam Murray, who leads a consortium of firms supporting the brand, said their proposal was still ‘mostly under wraps’ so detail was minimal.

He added: “We’re speaking with the brand, and the institution who are looking to back the scheme, to provide more details over the coming months, though we’re still not at a stage to provide these. Plans take time to get right.

“In terms of the ideas for football pitches to be used as additional civic open space, whilst these are just in idea form at the moment, I think they make something completely different for our city and identify the heart of the city as something for which Sheffield is renowned for all across the world.

“The alternatives suggested in the meeting, were what I would call underwhelming and ‘anywhere’ ideas.”

And he defended the plan for the flats.

He added: “Of course, there is a large proportion of residential proposed here, this is what makes the whole thing stack up, unlike other schemes that are being proposed. Though the main attraction will be the all-encompassing football centre with activities, history, inclusion and well-being.”

The store’s shock closure came just 10 months after the company signed a 20-year deal with the council - apparently ending years of uncertainty.

It was one of eight that closed when the firm lost £571m in the first year of the pandemic and internet shopping.

But less than a year later the company was back in profit. And last month it reintroduced its famously generous staff bonus.

WHY IS ONE MP CONVINCED JL BOSSES GOT IT WRONG ON CLOSURE?

Paul Blomfield MP said it proved the firm had ‘got it wrong’ in closing the Sheffield branch.

He added: “When I arranged for Sharon White to meet with Sheffield MPs last year, she admitted their Sheffield store wasn’t unprofitable at the time they made the decision to close it but their future projections suggested it might become so.

“We argued that was no basis on which to close down and that they should wait to see how business developed. This news seems to confirm they got it wrong, which only makes it worse for Sheffield and all the loyal staff who lost their jobs.”

Built for Cole Brothers in 1963, the shop changed name to John Lewis in 2002. It was in dire need of an upgrade long before it closed, with costs today estimated at up to £70m. They weigh heavily in favour of demolition but are countered by the need for greater sustainability – Sheffield City Council has declared a ‘climate emergency’.

A report by the council’s development partner Queensberry states replacing it would be greener because of the work involved in bringing it up to modern standards.

But University of Sheffield PhD student Danielle Abbey believes the carbon emitted through the extraction and production of new materials - such as steel and concrete - and transporting them to the site is often ignored.

She wrote: ‘By keeping the existing structure, the whole life carbon of the project can be dramatically improved. It is time to stop wasting the Earth’s finite resources and use retrofit to its fullest potential’.

Meanwhile, the council says it will start removing asbestos in May and expects to finish by the end of the year.

To continue holding the powerful to account and giving people a voice, The Star needs you to subscribe, please