Sink Sevenstone and show vision

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A VERY simple question: isn’t it about time Sheffield City Council admitted the Sevenstone retail quarter is never going to happen?

It won’t, will it?

You know it. They know it. Hammerson – the development company which has been making pledges but not progress for nigh on a decade – certainly knows it.

There will never be those 100 new city centre shops. The apartments won’t get built. A New Burgess Street filled with new buildings will remain forever just an image of the future, from the past.

We all know it.

John Mothersole, the chief executive with Sheffield City Council who tomorrow meets with Hammerson to supposedly get things moving, must know it. And Julie Dore must be aware too.

Sevenstone is as dead as a doornail.

Projects which get delayed and demeaned, scaled down and put back, don’t go ahead. They only go on the back burner and then get burned. I’ve seen it before. I saw Wolverhampton tear itself in two over a vast scheme – retail! leisure! a grey peas restaurant! – which everyone knew wouldn’t happen, and didn’t. An entire quarter compulsorarily bought, then left to stagnate; still like it now.

And that’s Sevenstone, that is. Glorious past. Decaying present. Future like Wolvo. But it can’t be helped, so they say. Recession, depression, austerity age. John and Julie trying their best while the Government snips and chips at their budgets and balance sheets.

Well, what tosh. These are tough times, all right. But tough is nothing that vision cannot outwit. How sad the latter seems to be lacking among Sheffield’s leaders.

Proof? Look around. Look at the Wicker Arches. Some 40 glorious Victorian viaduct spaces – prime for restaurants and retail, by a waterfront most cities would give their Town Hall for – left to rot. Look at the airport, or what once was the airport, now a nothing. Look at the east end, with its stadium set to be mothballed and an arena in fear of its future because Leeds is building its own.

And, since we’ve brought it up, let’s look at Leeds...

An arena being built. Plans for a new train link to a (proper) airport. A new £600 million retail quarter being quickly developed in the east end – by a company called Sevenstone.

Which begs two questions: how is the fourth biggest city in England, with so much to offer and so many reasons why people want to live here, allowing itself to fall into decline? And why do our leaders seem to insinuate such decline is inevitable?

It isn’t.

With good public policies and by attracting the right private businesses, with long-term planning and short-term endeavour, towns can be changed for the better. Leeds (again) did it in the Nineties; reinvented itself as the financial capital of the north, struck a deal to have the world’s second Harvey Nichols department store on its main thoroughfare and persuaded neighbouring councils to help fund the expansion of a regional airport. Ultimately, it showed imagination.

The same is now needed here. Sevenstone is the past but the future can still be great.

Those trusted to run the city must stop making excuses and start making things happen.

And they should count themselves lucky: Sheffield is a marvellous canvas to work on.