Sheffield 'taking the lead' on changing high street - as applications for new shops fall sharply
The number of planning applications for new shops has fallen faster in Sheffield than anywhere else in the UK, new figures suggest.
But council and business leaders insist the statistics are not necessarily cause for gloom, but an indicator of how the city is ahead of the curve at adapting to the changing role of the high street.
The number of such applications within the city fell from 36 in 2016/17 to 17 last year, research by the property investment website Lendy showed - a drop of 53 per cent.
Lendy said the figures are 'symptomatic of the issues that the retail sector is having to combat', including growing competition from online sellers, which have pushed several big names into insolvency and prompted large-scale closures by others.
But Sheffield Council said the figures reflected how the city is proactively responding to shifting shopping habits.
"Sheffield often comes top of the list precisely because of the moves to reconfigure the high street, with tenants leaving premises due for demolition/re-modelling for the Heart of the City II project and the developments coming forward for The Moor.
"Naturally planning applications will go down until the next phase of space comes forward reflecting the national re-structuring within retail that is taking place."
The council said that as this and other new developments are completed more applications for new shops will materialise, with H&M, Next and New Look having already signed up to occupy new units planned for The Moor - the latter doing so despite closing stores elsewhere.
The manager of Sheffield Business Improvement District (BID), which is funded by city centre firms and works to make the area cleaner, safer and more vibrant, also insisted she was not overly concerned by the figures Lendy highlighted.
Diane Jarvis said: "A drop in the number of planning applications for retail units is disappointing for the sector, but Sheffield is still attracting some big high street names. The Moor is now home to a GAP Outlet, and the UK’s largest Blacks store, and the recent addition to Fargate of Pret A Manger shows that brands are willing to invest in the city centre.
"To cope with the change in shopping behaviours and habits, the high street must adapt to survive. The city centre must focus on providing a combined offer of retail, entertainment, and food and drink, alongside pleasant public space.
"Developments like Heart of the City II are keen to incorporate this joint offer, to ensure Sheffield city centre remains busy and vibrant, and evolves into a genuine visitor experience."
Lendy's chief executive Liam Brooke said of the figures: "A collapse in demand for new shops is symptomatic of the issues that the retail sector is having to combat.
"Major developers are actually selling off assets, while many other could now be adopting a stand-off approach instead of committing to spending large sums on new shops.
"Local authorities need to take a flexible attitude towards allowing the change of use from retail to residential."