LONG-DELAYED plans to create a £600 million shopping mecca in Sheffield face further setbacks as time runs out for the council to find the cash for a £20m bailout.
The ambitious Sevenstone retail project can only go ahead if properties on the site are bought before compulsory purchase orders expire in July.
But a report to be discussed by Sheffield Council’s cabinet today reveals officers are uncertain if funding for the purchases will come through in time.
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The new retail quarter, announced at the height of the economic boom, was meant to turn dilapidated streets between Barker’s Pool and The Moor into a shopping development that could help the city compete with Leeds, Nottingham and Manchester.
But when the recession struck the scheme was put on hold and developers Hammerson postponed building work in January 2009.
Now time is running out before the CPOs expire despite regular reassurances from town hall bosses the scheme would go ahead in a scaled-back format. The problem was first highlighted last January, when council bosses drew up plans for a £20m fund to buy up the city-centre properties, with £9.57m due to come from Yorkshire Forward and £2m from the Homes and Communities Agency.
Council money was to make up the remainder of the bailout.
Ron Rees, Sheffield Council’s retail quarter project director, announcing the bailout plan last January, said: “If we failed to acquire the land, you could say goodbye to any big initiative to redevelop the city centre.”
The Labour Government signed off the cash in April 2010 but the Tory-Lib Dem coalition suspended funding when they came into power and have not yet revealed whether they are able to pay for the scheme.
A report by council officers Matt Hayman and Dave Hempshall reveals concern over the funding.
In a section headed ‘Risks’, they said they were concerned “that the proposed timescale for redevelopment of the Sevenstone estate is delayed further”.
Their report said meetings have been held to negotiate “actions to resolve the current delay” but said there was “uncertainty” over the Government’s contribution to the bailout.
They added: “Officers are pursuing this but the current uncertainty over Yorkshire Forward and Homes and Communities Agency budgets makes this very difficult.”
Coun Ian Auckland, the council’s business spokesman, played down the importance of the report and said the ‘risks’ section merely outlined “what should be prepared for in any worse case scenario”.
He added: “We are continuing to work with the Treasury, HCA and Hammerson to the same timescales that have always been part of the project.”
The Sevenstone scheme could still go ahead if Hammerson comes up with the cash to buy the properties covered by the CPOs by July.
Last September council leaders presented an alternative financing scheme to Government “to give Hammerson enough comfort to buy up the remaining land in the development site”.
But the Treasury is still considering the proposals and Hammerson has remained silent on the matter, beyond insisting they “remain committed” to their “vision for Sevenstone”.
Councillors will today discuss short-term plans to maintain ‘vitality’ on the Sevenstone site until work starts.
Officers have asked them to approve paying £53,700 to extend a scheme that places art in empty shop windows.
The cabinet will be told officers have negotiated three short-term lets for stores to trade on the site and discussions are being held about four more units.
The report - which requests the short-term action to be extended to December 2011 - said there was a risk of “negative impact on public perception from continued short-term measures”.