'Sheffield city centre is making great progress but is being held back'

Sheffield city centre is making great strides - but progress has been hampered by antisocial behaviour, the amount of new student accommodation and controversial traffic measures, a residents' group says.

Wednesday, 10th January 2018, 4:37 pm
Updated Monday, 15th January 2018, 10:20 am
An action group is focusing on the best and worst aspects of Sheffield city centre

Visitor numbers are up by more than four per cent and new facilities including The Light cinema, Hallam University's Institute of Arts and the forthcoming HSBC building are contributing to a lively, youthful, convenient, safe and well-maintained neighbourhood for the 20,000 people who live there, according to the Sheffield City Centre Residents' Action Group.

However, the increasing number of developments aimed at students threatens to 'create a ghost town' for a large part of the year, street drinkers and 'drugaholics' are causing problems and changes to a key route have introduced an apparent '24/7 ban on entry' for motorists, the society claims.

Peter Sephton

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Tomorrow SCCRAG holds its annual general meeting, where chair Peter Sephton will focus on what members feel are the best and worst aspects of the city centre.

While the place is home to 60,000 students, 'supporting all kinds of activities and spending money', the group says student flats could be taking up too much residential space, preventing a 'mixed community' from developing.

"Excessive construction of tiny spaces prevents family living," Peter says. Choosing not to build residential apartments is also, he adds, preventing more people who could benefit from living centrally from doing so, and the group also questions whether flats left empty at Christmas and in summer may be 'creating a ghost town for 20 per cent of the year'.

The group says 'mixed-size' apartments are needed. "Start by making the old Star and Telegraph building into an exceptional quality, mixed, two-to-four bedroom development with parking."

Peter Sephton

Anti-social behaviour in the city centre, meanwhile, often involves addiction to drugs, alcohol and gambling, as well as mental health issues. Peter says users are 'wandering aimlessly on spice, prescription drugs and 9% volume alcohol', causing trouble by 'arguing, fighting, obstructing premises and abusing people'.

Begging, the group says, has been on the rise, with those asking for money on the streets evenly split between people from Sheffield, surrounding towns and other places. But the situation has begun to change.

Campaigns have been launched to cut anti-social behaviour, and more incidents have been reported following an initiative called 'Say Summat', which emphasises that, to most authorities, 'if it isn't reported, it didn't happen'. The Help Us Help scheme, run by local charities, the council and others, is also collecting donations of food and has had some successes sending addicts to rehab. "Accommodation is available for most rough sleepers, if accepted."

Elsewhere, changes to the bus gate where Glossop Road meets West Street have been a particular concern for members. Painted markings on the ground simply read 'bus, taxi, bikes only', even though cars are only banned from 4pm to 6.30pm on weekdays following the pedestrianisation of nearby streets that run through Sheffield University's campus.

"It gives the impression of a 24/7 ban on access," says Peter. A revised arrangement is to be introduced soon after SCCRAG called for action.

The group can chalk up some further recent victories. It managed to have concessions granted when permission was given for a sixth off-licence on West Street, such as putting the drink behind glass, and the policy governing when ambulances will pick up drug and alcohol users from the streets has been changed, with the reason for the call-out now assessed in advance.

"Sometimes our achievements are small but significant," says Peter.

Figures from the City Centre Business Improvement District - funded via a levy on firms - are also encouraging. More than 10,200 early morning cleaning jobs have been carried out by BID street rangers since June, and hundreds of hours have been spent removing graffiti. Footfall in the city centre has gone up by 7.6 per cent between 5pm and 7pm since the start of the Alive After Five scheme, with an overall increase of 4.2 per cent recorded in 2017, compared to a 7.3 per cent decline the year before. Seventeen thousand diners also took part in Dine Sheffield's Restaurant Week in September.

Priorities for SCCRAG this year include expanding Help Us Help, pushing the council to take a 'holistic approach' to managing the city centre and addressing spots where pedestrians need to navigate passing cars, such as Burgess Street near John Lewis.

"Our aim is to create a vibrant, liveable, attractive city centre for the benefit of all," Peter says.

Tomorrow's AGM is at 6.30pm at Sheffield University's Diamond Building on Leavygreave Road, in workroom three on floor two. Visit www.sccrag.org for details.