Sheffield property chiefs call on council to speed up sales of its land to boost new schemes: ‘You cannot regenerate a city without doing deals quickly, transparently and at a fair price’
A group that aims to be the ‘collective voice of property in Sheffield’ has responded after the city council spoke of its track record in taking risks to drive forward regeneration.
Sheffield’s perceived lack of success at competing with its neighbours Leeds and Manchester was discussed at a scrutiny committee meeting, where the council’s head of regeneration and property Tammy Whitaker said: “We are prepared to roll up our sleeves and get on with it and sometimes that means taking risks… but we need to have a go and try and I think we as a city are very good at that.”
Now the Sheffield Property Association – a diverse group including developers, both city universities, planning consultants, solicitors and commercial agents – has given its verdict in a letter signed by its chair, Martin McKervey.
The S-PA is calling for changes in the way the local authority’s Property Services department deals with the sale of council-owned plots of land which, it says, are often pivotal to getting major schemes off the ground.
Here is the text in full:
The council should be congratulated for driving forward some of the largest regeneration projects in our city. That said, the hard work of regenerating a city is about solving small problems, not just backing large projects.
A lot of what the council can do to support regeneration is managed by a little-known department called Property Services. This team looks after the land owned by the council. What they do matters but gets little attention.
Regeneration is difficult. The first task is to often to join up bits of pieces of land legally to create sites big enough for a new office or new home. It is like doing a jigsaw. One missing piece means no regeneration. The issue is that the council owns lots of jigsaw pieces. Their pieces of land can mean the difference between somewhere remaining derelict or being regenerated.
The challenge for many members of the Sheffield Property Association is that many of the obstacles they face when trying to build new offices, homes and shops are linked to Property Services. Our inbox overflows with their grumbles and complaints about this team.
Phone calls to Property Services can go unanswered for weeks, sometimes months. When you do finally get someone on the line then the conversations are sometimes too difficult. The council must not bend over backwards to do what every developer wants, but you have to be realistic.
Too often council-owned jigsaw pieces of land come with a crazy price tag. Too often you cannot even get a price. As an extreme example, one of our members has been trying to help a developer buy a piece of land that would help protect a Grade II listed building. The discussions have been going on for seven years.
Some will argue the council should always play hardball when a developer knocks on the door. That would be a mistake.
You cannot regenerate a city without doing deals with developers quickly, transparently and at a fair price. The problem is that either Property Services are too busy taking plaudits for projects they have not been involved with, or they think it’s better for the city if they keep their jigsaw pieces locked away.
Property Services either need more funding or they need to show they care about the smaller projects.
Perhaps they should begin by picking up the phone more regularly and start focussing on the small decisions that can help our city to flourish?
Sheffield Property Association