GRAVE doubts have been cast over one of Yorkshire’s landmark regeneration projects after a council has decided to jettison a deal with an international developer after the multi-million pound retail scheme has been blighted by a series of delays.
The ambitious plan for a new retail quarter in the heart of Sheffield is seen as key to sustaining the city’s economy and ensuring it can compete with rival shopping destinations across the North of England.
But Sheffield City Council will announce today it is beginning the search for a new development partner to deliver the shopping district. The council will end its development agreement with the international firm, Hammerson and seek a new investment partner to oversee the Sevenstone scheme, which had initially been expected to cost as much as £600m.
The Labour administration has maintained the decision is aimed at “establishing certainty for the scheme”, although opposition councillors claimed the announcement leaves major doubts over the development.
While Liberal Democrats were in power during protracted discussions surrounding the scheme after initial plans were first mooted at the turn of the century, they maintained Labour has not driven forward the proposals since winning control in 2011.
The Lib Dem group’s leader, Coun Shaffaq Mohammed, revealed several development partners may now have to be signed up with the over-arching development site split into several smaller schemes.
He admitted moves to bring on more than one partner would increase the complexities of the re-development vision, but added: “It is a body blow for the city, but we need to learn from the lessons of the past.
“The retail landscape has moved on a great deal in the last 10 years while the Hammerson deal has been on the table. The internet has had an impact, the city centre is shrinking and we will need to look closely at what sort of development is achievable.”
The cabinet member for business, skills and development, Coun Leigh Bramall, was adamant the scheme remains a viable proposition. He admitted Sheffield’s residents had “waited long enough for a new retail quarter”, and said: “We are taking control of the situation. We have got everything in place to make this a viable, attractive development scheme, and we can’t wait any longer to take this forward.”
Under the original agreement, which was signed with Sheffield Council six years ago, Hammerson should have finished the regeneration already, but it was postponed during the recession.
Earlier this year, Sheffield Council’s chief executive John Mothersole said he was confident of a 2014 start date, after offering Hammerson an extra £45m to get moving.
The additional cash offered by the council was made available as a result of its City Deal with the Government, which allows it to release money which it will recoup later through business rates. Plans have, however, been scaled back significantly over the last few years, with the budget shrinking from £600m to £300m.
It is hoped the scheme will include up to 700,000 sq ft of retail space with extensive food and entertainment venues along with a multi-storey car park.
The council maintained John Lewis remains as the anchor store, multi-million pound investment is available, utilities are in place and the site is already secured through Compulsory Purchase Orders.
The property director of John Lewis, Jeremy Collins, admitted he was “naturally disappointed” to learn the deal with Hammerson is to be severed, but stressed the retailer remains committed to the scheme.