Sheffield property firms join forces to drive city forward on global scale
Developers, architects and planners have joined together to bring more money into Sheffield and help create a better city for all residents.
There are currently 27 members of the newly-formed Sheffield Property Association, from major national names such as Meadowhall co-owner British Land to city firms including Coda Planning.
The companies work across a variety of professions and individually have their own aims and priorities.
But through the new group they want to create a new and wider focus on the city of Sheffield as a whole.
"We are there for the benefit and promotion of Sheffield and to give the property sector a voice and a drive in business," said Coda director Adam Murray.
"We want to inform people of inward investment, inform policymakers and persuade them to do things in a different way, with the end goal of delivering a more beautiful urban environment and more economic investment - which is absolutely key."
Outside London, the Sheffield Property Association is the first of its kind in England. But within the capital the model has existed for decades.
The City Property Association was formed in 1904 and has been guiding public policy ever since. In 1988 it was joined by a Westminster group, and the two now work together as highly influential advisory bodies, able to attract high-ranking civil servants and politicians to their meetings.
The Sheffield version is based on the same principles. But it will not be a carbon copy.
"We are trying to set something up that follows in their footsteps," said Mr Murray. "We are working with them and they have helped guide us.
"We’re not trying to copy them, because Sheffield is different. But having that guidance to bring us through, and those connections, is invaluable."
One of the reasons behind the formation of the Sheffield group, known as SPA, was to create more interest in the city.
Already the relationship with the established London associations has proven fruitful. Mr Murray described a recent event attended by the Crown Estate as an eye-opener.
"Previously I don’t believe we would have been able to invite such high-standing people to the city," he said.
"Sitting down at a private lunch with the guys that work with City and Westminster - these are names that we don’t get at Sheffield events.
"They want to help us grow. They understand the impact regional development and growing the economies of regional cities."
Sheffield Council has historically been seen as the key organisation in the city, and in many ways it still is. But the ever-decreasing pot of central funding is no secret, and has led many to consider what they can do to help.
Mr Murray hopes SPA can play a key role in pushing the city forward.
"I don’t want to call Sheffield a second tier city, but let’s not be daft - it is," he said.
"It’s how we work at that level to drive further investment and business in the city.
"As things stand there’s a vacuum. There is an opportunity for us to look to how we grow Sheffield and make that development work as best we can.
"How do we work with our political partners to make sure we are not missing out?"
The SPA believes the lack of central funding puts even more importance on the property sector. Mr Murray said it was key to show the value both in property and creating a 'strong and successful' economy.
The group is working with the council's head of planning Rob Murfrin and hopes to establish a direct line of communication with regular meetings and conversations.
"It’s letting the council know, on one level, that we are there as a critical friend and we can advise, help, deliver all the necessary requirements for a better urban environment," said Mr Murray.
"We want to be involved at all stages."
Outside investors have been looking to Sheffield more and more in recent years, with high-profile international deals attracting great interest - and great scrutiny.
But it is not just SPA members who believe this investment is key to the city's development.
One way to get the attention of global developers is to promote Sheffield on a wider stage. This will start at Mipim, the world's biggest property event, which takes place in Cannes every March.
Mr Murray called it 'one of the most fundamentally important events in the property climate across the world' - but one where Sheffield 'still lags way behind other cities'.
"And we need to be promoting ourselves to the world as open and great for business," he added.
Closer to home, an immediate SPA priority is transport.
"We are also looking at the impact of HS2 with the city centre station," said Mr Murray. "We are all for it, because it’s that or nothing.
"But it’s about ensuring that because we are spur, it’s not easily cut out. That the money is readily available and going to deliver that connection. And that it will connect with HS3.
"The appropriate sense of arrival that’s needed to attract the investment is very important."
A cynic might suggest firms within SPA could use the group simply to further their own aims.
But Mr Murray is clear that the city-wide approach will help everyone, and will go some way towards tackling the inequalities that exist across the city.
"We want to be positive about Sheffield and the future of the city," he said.
"We don’t want to talk about the history of Sheffield - we want to see what we can do as a group and as individuals to make these things happen."