"Sheffield needs a good architect to have a go at transforming these empty buildings" - shop owners give verdict on Meadowhall v city centre debate
Sheffield shop owners have responded to claims suggesting the proposed Meadowhall extension could scupper plans to reinvent the city centre through a new leisure offering.
Earlier this week, Nalin Seneviratne, director of city centre development, said he is lobbying against the £150million expansion of the shopping mall because he believes it could damage attempts to get ‘destination leisure operators’ to take over some of the city’s newly-vacant department stores.
Sheffield city centre has experienced a number of high-profile closures in recent months, including Debenhams and John Lewis, and the loss of the latter has been felt particularly hard by staff, shoppers and business owners alike.
Only last week, The Star revealed the authority was spending millions on a five-storey building on Fargate to create a major events centre. This comes after the revised British Land application details plans to convert the M1 distribution site off Vulcan Road into a leisure park with activities in warehouses - like trampoline centre Jump; the addition of new ‘big box’ shops selling outdoor equipment, sports and homeware and a bid to expand and modernise the existing Vue cinema.
Rona Stevenson owns family-run lifestyle shop Within Reason on Devonshire Street, and said that instead of the creation of out of town leisure facilities such as a trampoline centre at an extended Meadowhall the city would be better off if money was spent on a destination events space in the city centre, similar to the Centre Pompidou in Paris, which houses the Musée National d'Art Moderne, Europe's largest museum for modern art.
"Sheffield needs a good architect to have a go at transforming these empty buildings,” said Rona.
She said the closure of John Lewis had come as a “big blow,” and that members of the business community were still “smarting” from the decision.
The retail giant confirmed it would not be reopening a further eight branches, including Sheffield’s, after the third national lockdown because some locations could not sustain a large store.
Rona said she would like to see John Lewis transformed into a huge food hall.
Owner of independent gift and jewellery shop, MoonKo, Debbie Moon said she believes there needs to be “more reinvestment and focus on the city centre” in the wake of the loss of high street giants if the city centre is to stand any chance of competing with an extended Meadowhall.
“I just feel they [Sheffield Council] need to be looking towards the city centre, creating more investment and building upon what we already have. We need to have a combination of big brands and independent shops, you do need both,” said Debbie, adding that the council need to “start listening” and considering what it is people want from the city centre.
She continued: “Shopping has shifted but people do still enjoy coming to independent shops like mine, but people are more interested in having an experience. There are so many independents that are really special, but we need the investment in the city centre.”
"We’re never going to go back to what we were doing before. We need to re-evaluate, there’s a real opportunity to change things, but there needs to be a brave vision for what to do next.”
Debbie said footfall seemed to be up on pre-pandemic levels where she is based on Division Street, thanks in part to the pedestrianisation of the area.