The big read: Sheffield city centre footfall hike is boosting local business takings, says council chief
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Coun Paul Turpin, executive member for inclusive economy, jobs and skills at Sheffield Council, said shopkeepers have told him they are making more money as a result of the growth of city centre events.
He spoke to the Telegraph after new figures from Centre for Cities showed that footfall in Sheffield city centre grew by 33 per cent in September. The hike made Sheffield the most improved city in its high street recovery tracker of the 63 largest cities and towns in the UK
However people have questioned whether extra footfall equates to extra spend.
Coun Turpin said: “We are spending tonnes of money making the city centre somewhere people want to visit.
"We have done lots of stuff with the Economic Recovery Fund, Summer in the Outdoor City, grants for the market on Division Street and the Pollen market.
"There is a lot of anecdotal evidence [for increased city centre spending] from shopkeepers.
"Speaking to them people are saying ‘thank you, our takings are just way up, we want more events please.’”
“We are delighted by the footfall figures. We knew that it was working in regards to footfall but we didn’t know it was working so well compared to other cities. A lot of it is in the evenings, after 5pm.”
He explained that despite much of the footfall coming after most shops have closed, work on events has contributed to a growth in spending.
He added: “Summer in the Outdoor City events do bring people back to the shops. We have two separate markets on Division Street. We have had to be careful of duplication, having a street market that doesn’t duplicate what the shops are selling as well.
“We want to make Sheffield more welcoming for businesses to start up. "The way in which we are helping business is by having an ecosystem that supports start-ups, ensuring affordable premises and skills and training offerings. Business Sheffield has lots of support for businesses.
"We should measure the economy using metrics like healthy life expectancy - if you are in a poor area you might have a healthy life expectancy of 45 years and in a wealthy area it might be 65 years. As long as we have that difference the economy is not working.
“Coming up there will be events with Visit Sheffield and Summer in the Outdoor City. We don’t want to have a limit on what we can do to help."
Professor Vanessa Toulmin, the director of City and Culture at the University of Sheffield who was involved with the £20m plan to save Sheffield’s high street , said more events has given people new reasons to come into the city centre.
She said: “Let’s celebrate that we are increasing footfall.
"That was a result of places like Pollen market. That’s another positive side of Sheffield, we have creative people who want to develop their city, we just need to be able to let them.
“People are feeling confident that they can go out again. The return of students and people working in town will have helped. Both universities are hybrid. The University of Sheffield runs Off the Shelf literary festival taking place this month - we want to lead the way in showing people they can come back into the city centre and live in it.
“It would be good if the council will send their officers back in, it’s all well to talk about other workers needing to come in.”
But on developing buildings, she added: “Pension trustees and absentee landlords make it difficult to develop. The more we take back ownership of our city centre the more we can develop. Heart of the City works because the council becomes the developer.
“It’s very easy to point the finger at the council but they are not the people who own the buildings.”
On Division Street, home to many independent businesses, the call was for more events and even closing the road to traffic.
Tom Smith, who works at Preloved Kilo, said: “I have worked on Division Street for about seven years and footfall at the moment is the highest we have seen it in a long time, even before Covid. It could be due to a number of factors, students came back last month, offices have reopened.
"Footfall here dropped considerably before Covid, down to the increase in online shopping and an increase in funds put into Meadowhall. Now it’s back to how it was in 2017.
"Events in the city centre have been successful - Hedgerow market was successful apart from the last one which was cancelled. If the council can carry on doing things to get people back into the city all the better.”
Stuart McAdie and Ben Rees of The Alternative Store, said: “Just after lockdown there were far fewer people in. But those that come in do so with the intention to buy.
"The council could help by arranging to close the road when they put on Hedgerow. I imagine storeholders were upset when that was cancelled.
“They should close Division Street at weekends. Pedestrianisation has worked wonderfully for Pinstone Street but it’s grossly unfair that those shops are getting the benefit and we are not.
"If you pedestrianise the street, put tables out, people hang out and it makes you feel like you are on holiday, you loosen up, you spend more.”