Funding row over £990k for Sheffield’s Orchard Square shopping centre to create flats and boost entertainment
and live on Freeview channel 276
Sheffield City Council’s finance sub-committee was discussing Future High Streets scheme funding of £15.8m from the Government, topped up by £5m from the council.
The scheme is aimed at improving the area around Fargate and High Street.
Funding has been used to buy and develop the former Clinton Cards shop on Fargate as Event Central, a music and arts centre and co-working space.
The Montgomery Theatre on Surrey Street will receive £495,000 to help develop it as an arts centre for children and young people. The lack of disabled access has held back the theatre’s ambitions in the past and the grant will allow a lift to be installed.
Orchard Square Ltd, owned by owned by London and Associated Properties Ltd, will receive £650,000 to develop its open-air entertainment programme, including installing canopies so that events can go ahead in bad weather.
Another £340,000 has been allocated to help Orchard Square turn upper-floor units that have proved impossible to let into eight flats.
Councillors heard from principal development officer Matt Hayman that one of scheme’s aims is to bring unused upper floors of buildings around Fargate and High Street into commercial use.
The Medical Research Council won funding to turn half of the ground floor of the former Topshop, occupied by Superdrug, into a foyer for an upper-storey co-working space – where people rent temporary work desks.
ReNew Sheffield has received £300,000 to help start-up businesses make temporary use of vacant units.
Mr Hayman said: “We are looking to increase visitor numbers to the city centre by 510,000, create 505 jobs, 70 new homes in the city centre and 70,000 square feet of commercial space.”
Cllr Joe Otten (LibDem, Dore and Totley) said he was curious what the public benefit of the Orchard Square flats was.
Mr Hayman replied: “The justification is in terms of vibrancy – the wider business case, we targeted 70 new units, so this contributes to that target. Footfall, vibrancy – filling those vacant floors that currently just aren’t used.”
‘It raises the eyebrows’
Cllr Otten said: “I welcome building homes and many thousands more people living in the city centre than they used to, largely through commercial developments. It raises the eyebrows that we feel we need to subsidise eight more units with a third of a million pounds.”
Cllr Marieanne Elliot (Gleadless Valley, Green) said: “I’m not sure, bearing in mind what you said about value for money, that you’re really giving a justification for the council funding a private property company for eight residential apartments.
“I’ve done a quick search on this and the company’s chaired by Sir Michael Heller, who’s a major Tory donor, chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel – is this an ethical way for the council to be spending money? I think that, considering the challenging position we’re in, I don’t know if maybe we should be having a conversation about this.”
Mr Hayman replied: “The hope is, especially with Orchard Square, they want to make their centre as sustainable as possible. There are large retailers in there currently, things are changing as we talk, and they are potentially looking at new uses throughout the site.”
Cllr Mary Lea (Labour, Darnall) said: “I suppose we need to clarify if we refuse one lot we lose everything. I was in Orchard Square this lunchtime actually and shops are going in Orchard Square.
“Clark’s shoe shop’s just gone, disappeared and I just think, although it’s in the centre of Fargate almost, it’s still a bit out of the way, and I don’t think as many people would go in there as if it was marketed properly, and I think the whole package will do something towards that.”
She added: “I’m really pleased about the Montgomery Theatre, absolutely pleased. We’ve supported them financially in the past and supported them in kind, and the fact that they’re getting this grant now is absolutely wonderful, especially with their ambitions to make it a centre for children’s cultural activity.”
‘It does stick in my throat’
Committee co-chair Cllr Bryan Lodge (Labour, Birley) worried that dropping part of the plan would endanger the whole Future High Street scheme, which has a tight delivery deadline of March 2024.
LibDem group leader Cllr Shaffaq Mohammed (Ecclesall) told Cllr Ellliot: “I do see the case you’re making, as someone who lives in a house that cost £15,000 in 2003. There’ll be lots of other Sheffielders thinking, hang on a minute – however, times have moved on and, as Cllr Lodge has said, this is something we’ve got to move with.
“Clearly, we’ve put a marker down about how we are feeling a little bit uncomfortable and that’s the point, but I think we’re at this stage now where it’s the 11th hour, 59th minute and to see all the other stuff we do want put in jeopardy because of this one issue… I for one, chair, will be voting for it, although it does stick in my throat a bit.”
Cllr Otten stressed that in future all such proposals should benefit the city as a whole, rather than one developer.
Assistant director of legal services David Hollis said: “Although we are a political organisation, the way that we deliver our services, we can’t act in a political way. So the political affiliations of the owners is an irrelevant consideration.”
Cllr Maroof Raouf (Nether Edge and Sharrow, Green) asked: “Were you aware that one of the directors of Orchard Square Ltd was the deputy of the Conservative Friends of Israel?”
Mr Hayman said he wasn’t and Cllr Lodge protested: “I don’t think that’s a relevant question to ask an officer.”
Councillors voted to approve the entire programme.