Key figures in transformation of Sheffield urge city to find its own identity

If all goes to plan, Sheffield will be a very different place in 2025.

Friday, 20th January 2017, 2:47 pm
Updated Monday, 23rd January 2017, 12:07 pm
Sheffield 2025: Bigger, Brighter, Bolder event held at The Balance by the property forum of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce. Pictured are the panel Ranald Phillips, Ashcroft/Aberdeen Asset Management; Simon Gawthorpe, Urban Splash; Paul Sargent, Queensberry; Mark Jackson, Scarborough Group; Alexis Krachai of Counter Context; and Tim Bottrill, Chair of SPARC. Picture: Chris Etchells

People will finally have set foot in the new retail quarter which, alongside The Moor, will have revitalised shopping and evening entertainment in the city centre.

Park Hill flats - so long an eyesore - will be completely redeveloped, with a new community making their homes in the iconic buildings.

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New and established businesses will be growing and employing city people in grade A office buildings such as the Digital Campus.

And Sheffield will be a key component in a successful Northern Powerhouse.

Wishful thinking, perhaps. But soon to be reality, according to the people leading some of the key projects in Sheffield.

For the city to succeed, though, it needs residents, businesses and politicians to work together to give Sheffield an identity it has lacked in recent years.

The St Paul's business district.

That was the call to action at the Sheffield 2025: Bigger, Brighter, Bolder event, organised by the chamber of commerce.

A panel of individuals who hold key roles in the development of the city urged the 150 businessmen and women in attendance to play their part over the next decade and beyond.

As chief executive of Queensberry - the council's development partner on the retail quarter - Paul Sargent perhaps has the most important job in the city.

Looking in as an outsider, he outlined several problems that have led the city centre to the state of 'turmoil' it is currently in.

The Moor.

But, he said, Queensberry had a reputation for bringing life to stagnant projects.

"We do like a challenge, and were happy for Sheffield to be the next one," he said.

"If you look at it in the negative and positive balance it’s clear that Sheffield is not performing in the retail hierarchy.

"It’s a very small centre for the scale and size of the catchment and population.

The Digital Campus.

"The main reason for that is Meadowhall. When it come along it stopped the natural growth in the city centre.

"That’s history and hopefully in the future both will sit side by side very comfortably."

The history of the retail quarter is probably something Sheffield Council would like to forget. The ambitious Sevenstone development - much larger than the new retail quarter - was derailed by the recession, and for years it seemed the idea would remain on the drawing board.

But visible progress is now being made. Giant machines are demolishing the Grosvenor House Hotel to make way for a £90 million office block and ground floor shops and restaurants that will form phase one of the biggest development in the city centre for many years.

Mr Sargent praised the council's attitude - 'it is one of 10 to 20 in the country that have got their act together' - and promised better quality retailers would come into the city as a result of the retail quarter.

He refused to be drawn on the big question of a department store, only saying: "I can’t put names to shops at the moment but if we get our way we should have a John Lewis anchor."

The new retail quarter, phase one.

But he gave a warning to the people of Sheffield not to try to copy their northern neighbours.

"Differentiation is the only way forward," he said. "Competing on a like-for-like basis means certain death."

Complementing the retail quarter will be The Moor, which by 2025 will have a new cinema, several restaurants and high profile retailers.

The quality of shops is key for the city centre, according to Ranald Phillips, director at Ashcroft, which manages development on The Moor.

Mr Phillips said he had seen Sheffield's potential for years, but even a basic analysis showed a real lack of 'high level' shops apart from the 'jewel in the crown' John Lewis.

"Outside John Lewis there is not a single piece of high end or quality retailing," he said.

"Every other major town and city in the country supports the likes of Jigsaw and White Company. I put down a list of 50 retailers Sheffield doesn’t have in five or 10 minutes.

"Sheffield was the only place that scored zero - apart from John Lewis."

Mr Phillips expect the regeneration of The Moor to attract a better class of retailers. He said footfall had already outstripped Fargate, but The Moor could not revitalise the city centre alone.

"What the city needs now is something which does not seek to be a small version of Meadowhall," he said.

"We can only restore The Moor to one of Sheffield’s leading retail thoroughfares. We are getting there. What we now need is quality, which has been badly lacking."

And he too warned that Sheffield needed its own identity.

"You need to make up your minds. Do you want to compete or do you want to let Leeds and Manchester do all the brash commercial stuff?

"We are above all that.

"The community needs to come together to ensure things happen."

A city cannot survive on shops and leisure alone - something recognised in the decision to put up to 300 residential units into the retail quarter.

A key council aim is to get more people living in the city centre, and one of the big opportunities is Park Hill.

Developer Urban Splash is part way through a multi-million pound regeneration of the brutalist Sheffield landmark.

The first phase of 263 apartments is complete and sold out. The second phase is 206 apartments at a cost of £25 million, and the third is student accommodation with 320 beds at £20 million.

A fourth phase, a new site for the S1 Artspace project, is also underway.

Urban Splash managing director Simon Gawthorpe said Park Hill had been a huge challenge, particularly through the recession, but what had been created was truly unique and a real selling point for the city.

Admitting it was a 'Marmite' development, he added: "We feel very passionately about Park Hill. We think we are having great success there and it has a big future.

"It’s completely different to anything else. It’s a scheme that draws you in."

And while some may not appreciate the mass of concrete, the work Urban Splash has done so far is proving popular.

"We have more enquiries about Park Hill than any other scheme we have - about 80 a month," said Mr Gawthorpe.

"Our job is to capture that enthusiasm.

"There’s a lot of great stuff being done in our northern cities. It’s catching on to these things that are unique, and the character of the city, and growing that."

The call from the panel - made up of self-confessed 'outsiders' to the city - was for native and adopted Sheffielders to step up and help the transformation.

Mark Jackson of Scarborough Group, which has a number of interests in Sheffield including the Digital Campus, said civic leadership was important, but developers needed to be sympathetic to city politics.

"Community can be a tremendous force for good if you harness the public mood," he said.

"Recognising the politicians’ and council’s position and being sympathetic to it through the community is a way in which we can bring things forward.

"But the council needs to be open for business and there needs to be a plan. A sensible plan working with developers to make that palatable."

Mr Jackson said Sheffield's geography and industrial history made growing the city centre more of a challenge.

Praising The Outdoor City as an initiative which sets Sheffield apart, and identifying the Northern Powerhouse as a positive brand, Mr Jackson said: "We are not going to change the hills and we are not going to change the history, so it’s a challenging place to develop.

"But it’s created something different in the Northern Powerhouse.

"The identity of Sheffield is extremely important. Don’t think you should try to compete with Leeds and Manchester because Sheffield will lose.

"Sheffield needs to be its own places. Not a wannabe Leeds or Manchester."

Today’s top stories:

The St Paul's business district.
The Moor.
The Digital Campus.
The new retail quarter, phase one.