I appreciate the contribution that Mr Hodgson makes in his letter to your paper published on Monday, August 31.
When we announced the Sheffield Retail Development Group’s (SRDG) plans, our intention was to stimulate debate and make the businesses and citizens of Sheffield aware that there are alternative viable plans out there.
So far we have been fed a strict diet of the council’s plans with the attendant flashy publicity and presentations. It has not, in our view, offered a real debate as to what the citizens of Sheffield want for their city centre and how it could be delivered without pain, anguish and financial risk inflicted on the local residents, businesses and council tax-payers.
The SRDG did, however, start this debate six months ago and readers are invited to go to www.sheffieldshines.com or write to me at email@example.com with their views.
The council has called the project the Retail Quarter, which we think is a misnomer in the first place. Any city centre will have retail but what kind of retail? Will there be room for the small independents? What will be the leisure mix of the development? How can we attract and keep visitors to the city centre? How will we make the city centre a vibrant, safe, environmentally responsible and sustainable place?
This is a huge challenge and Sheffield is the last major city centre waiting for this size of redevelopment so we must get it right and not just adopt a ‘Hammerson-lite’ approach.
First, it must be pointed out that the SRDG has been working on the concept with our partners since Hammerson left Sheffield behind to pursue a more attractive proposition in Merthyr Tydfil three years ago. We have researched the issues thoroughly and we are confident that with our proposed scheme, the risks are manageable.
The SRDG proposal covers the same site area as the council’s. The adoption of an underground car park is an expensive option but one that frees up acres of valuable land and separates vehicles from pedestrians. Our team has worked on many projects in that part of Sheffield and has in-depth knowledge of what to expect underground.
Mr Hodgson writes fully about the track record of the council and financial risks associated with the project – he is quite right to highlight them but that is why we believe that the current council procurement process is wrong and places too much risk on Sheffielders for years to come. Just look at the £7m plus that the Council has spent already on consultants to get to this point.
Also, there is a fundamental flaw in the Council’s plans that forces the John Lewis store to move. As far as we are concerned John Lewis has been very clear in its opposition to moving to where the council want to relocate them to and has not published a change in that position.
So how will this deadlock be broken?
The council is presently offering John Lewis a new store where inevitably there will be very significant (and in our view) potentially unnecessary financial incentives. If John Lewis maintains its stance, the scheme will have to be completely redesigned or settled in the courts. How crazy is this? To the SRDG, it is a lesson in how not to treat the country’s leading retailer and anchor tenant.
Finally, Mr Hodgson calls for a wide debate by bringing together interested parties and in this we agree.
Unfortunately, I doubt the council will do this as they are apparently fixated on showing progress before next year’s local elections, even if they are making big decisions that have to be changed afterwards.
However, I note, as I write this letter, the council has just announced a six-month delay in the selection of its preferred developer – underpinning our concerns that the present scheme is not deliverable.
Sheffield Retail Development Group