Sheffield High Street could be transformed with £25m ‘game-changer’ investment

Sheffield High Street and the surrounding area could be transformed using a share of £675 million, described as a ‘game changer’ for the city centre.

Monday, 8th July 2019, 12:30 pm
Updated Monday, 8th July 2019, 5:48 pm

The historic shopping district is in the running for a slice of up to £25m of the Future High Streets Fund, set up by the Government to transform and future-proof the nation’s beleaguered town and city centres.

It is one of just over 50 places to be shortlisted for the cash, out of more than 300 applications from across the country.

The money would be used to breathe new life into the High Street, Fargate, Castle Square and the top of Angel Street, which like many once-thriving commercial hubs have fallen victim to rise of online shopping.

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Sheffield Council, which submitted the bid with support from the University of Sheffield, will now get up to £150,000 to draw up more detailed plans to revive the area, before the winning entries are chosen.

Exactly how the money would be spent has yet to be decided, but Vanessa Toulmin, director of city and culture at the university, who was involved in preparing the bid, believes the investment could be a ‘game-changer’.

She told how the idea was to make the most of existing buildings to provide more housing and space for small businesses in the city centre – especially those from the thriving digital and creative sectors – and create more green spaces to attract extra visitors.

Fargate, Sheffield

“If we get this funding it could be an absolute game-changer for the city centre,” she said.

“This is a historic area, with some incredible buildings which haven’t been used to their best advantage. We need to unlock the potential of those buildings and come up with more creative uses.

“It’s about making the city centre more attractive to those who live and work there – making it more of a boulevard with pocket parks and spaces where people can sit and relax.

“At the moment it’s empty after 5pm and the answer to changing that is not just filling it with bars. We need to create an area where people feel safe and happy.”

The initial application was drawn up following discussions with landlords and retailers, including Marks & Spencer, and drew on research by the university. Wider public consultation is now planned before the final proposals are submitted in spring next year.

Although there are no guarantees the council’s bid will be successful, the signs are promising. The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, which is in charge of dishing out the funds, used a photo of Sheffield High Street to illustrate its release announcing the shortlist.

The council said it is looking to replicate the success of its £480m Heart of the City II development, including new homes, offices, hotels, shops, cafes and restaurants, which is taking shape at the other end of Fargate.

Councillor Mazher Iqbal, the council’s cabinet member for business and investment, said: “It’s excellent news to make the second stage of this process. Our city is transforming into a world-leading mix of retail, residential and leisure as evidenced by our Heart of the City II scheme and the improvements on The Moor. But we don’t want change to happen in silos, or for the Heart of the City’s obvious benefits to detract from other proud and historic parts of our city.

“That’s why it is important that we now work with the Government to develop a compelling business case that shows how much pride we have in these streets and our future plans for them. Although there are no guarantees, we are confident that the huge progress we have already made to develop new vibrancy in this part of the city centre will stand us in good stead and, if successful, the Future High Streets Fund will help us to do much more.

“If we are successful in the next stage, this financial stimulus for the historic heart of the city centre will help to future-proof it for the generations to come. We have so much more we wish to accomplish and these funds could be one way of helping us to achieve these ambitions.”

The Government invited people to bid for a share of the huge funding pot, which it said could be used for anything from improving transport links to converting empty shopping units into homes, last December.

Announcing the shortlist last Friday, high streets minister Jake Berry said: “High streets are a crucial part of our local economies and people care about them because they are also the centres of their community.

“But we recognise that changing consumer behaviour and the rise of online shopping presents a significant challenge and that’s why we are taking action to help them evolve.

“Many of our high streets are successfully re-inventing themselves and with these new plans now in development, local leaders, who know their areas best, will be driving forward the transformation of their town centres into further great success stories.”

Two other funding applications within Sheffield – one led by the council for the Attercliffe area, and the other headed up by Dransfield Properties for Stocksbridge – failed to make it past the first stage.

The council said it would work with its partners to consider how best to improve those areas.