British Land plays down talk of Meadowhall expansion plans

One of the owners of Meadowhall last night played down suggestions that it is escalating plans for a major retail expansion on land next to the shopping centre.

According to one report yesterday, British Land and London & Stamford have lined up an anchor tenant for a 300,000 sq ft scheme, which would increase Meadowhall's retail space to 1.8m sq ft, creating the UK's second largest shopping site.

British Land has already confirmed its interest in a 300m commercial and residential development next to Meadowhall, but yesterday the property company insisted it had not made any definite plans.

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A British Land spokeswoman said: "We do not intend to extend the Meadowhall shopping centre. We continue to look at development of the land surrounding Meadowhall but do not have any firms plans at the current time."

The land, which has outline planning consent, is set aside for general employment and business use, which also allows for limited housing. A new retail element is unlikely to be directly connected to the existing centre.

However, there might be issues over planning permission.

The owners must prove to Sheffield City Council that half of the visitors to the new site would be existing Meadowhall customers, otherwise there could be traffic congestion.

Eight million people live within an hour's drive of Meadowhall, which has good transport links by rail and road.

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A council spokeswoman said it had had no planning discussions with British Land about any retail development proposals at this stage.

She added: "It would be bound to raise significant challenges to understand how the traffic could be made to work without damaging the prospects for important business growth in the area, and avoid impacts on local communities which already suffer from congestion and poor air quality.

"Planning policies do not currently anticipate significant expansion at Meadowhall, and are focused on delivering an improved retail offer in existing district centres, and especially Sheffield city centre. If British Land is able to present a workable case for such a proposal that can avoid and overcome such concerns, then that would be properly considered alongside any wider local benefits."

Last year, centre manager Darren Pearce revealed British Land and London and Stamford, were keen to progress plans for the commercial and residential development next to Meadowhall, which has outline planning permission.

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Speaking to the Yorkshire Post last May, Mr Pearce said: "We have two investors here who are very willing to move this forward. We have not got a funding problem."

He said the centre was in talks with potential private sector tenants for the commercial element of the scheme.

According to one Yorkshire commercial property agent, the whole development would be mainly offices but there is a potential homeware and bulk goods park in the pipeline, along the same lines as the Trafford Centre's homewares-focussed extension Barton Square. There are also rumours of BMW opening up a dealership on the site and a strong convenience store offer alongside a residential area.

The agent said: "Discussions are very low key at the moment due to the fact that there are sensitivities around it."

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He added: "The new development won't impact on Meadowhall's current retail offering."

British Land sold half its stake in Meadowhall to London & Stamford Property in 2008 to reduce its exposure to big single assets. The deal did not include the development land next to Meadowhall but London & Stamford has an option to acquire a stake in the site from British Land at "market value".

London & Stamford confirmed in its November trading statement that it is exploring opportunities to develop surrounding land.

Meanwhile, British Land reported a surge in asset values and strong growth in its occupancy rates and lettings in the six months to the end of September 2010.

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Some 850,000 sq ft of new lettings and renewals were signed during the period, including 16 long-term lettings at Meadowhall, where it added retailers such as Phase Eight, LK Bennett and Guess.

A total of 147,000 festive shoppers visited the Meadowhall site on December 27 – the highest number of visitors in the centre's 20-year history.

Meadowhall has 10 anchor stores, including Debenhams and House of Fraser, which recently underwent a 5m makeover.

Work is due to begin this month on refurbishing the food court.

Market on the move again

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A LAWYER from Eversheds said yesterday that the retail property market is once again beginning to move.

Partner James Batham predicted retailers will continue to dump non-core space and focus on key profitable units in strategic locations in 2011.

He added: "Supply of prime locations is right down. Accordingly, the principle of supply and demand means that over the coming year we will be seeing investors and developers with money to spend moving back into this sector to supply retailers who will need space to expand."

Planning policies do not currently anticipate significant expansion at Meadowhall.