Meadowhall plan to create 'leisure destination' in Sheffield wins approval

Meadowhall shopping centre has won approval to create a leisure destination from Sheffield councillors despite protests from rival retail centres.

Sheffield City Council planning committee agreed to the third version of the leisure plan submitted to the council in the past four years.

Meadowhall can now go ahead with an indoor recreation and leisure centre, shops, food and drink units, a cinema, police station and car showroom. The application involves The Source training academy, the area around the main centre and the M1 Distribution Centre. The proposal, which has been scaled down twice, includes an agreement to delay building the leisure hall until 2029 and other conditions.

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This is to minimise the effect on Sheffield and Rotherham city centres which have their own plans to mix shopping and leisure. Rotherham Council was among the objectors because of fears that investors may be drawn away from the Forge Island plans taking shape to build a hotel, cinema, restaurants and bars, set in riverside gardens.

How Meadowhall's proposed 'leisure destination' could lookHow Meadowhall's proposed 'leisure destination' could look
How Meadowhall's proposed 'leisure destination' could look

Jamie Whitfield, a director of retail investment firm NewRiver, which co-owns The Moor, described Meadowhall as “dominant in the region”, saying that shops that operate in the city centre and Meadowhall have sales volumes that are five times higher in the centre. In Manchester, city centre sales volumes are on a par with the Trafford Centre, he said.

He added: “This application seeks to greatly extend the customer experience and extend the dwell time which will further compound this dominance over Sheffield city centre.”

Mr Whitfield predicted the plan could undermine the Heart of the City 2 under way in the city centre.

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David Bloy from Meadowhall’s owner British Land said: “Nationally, Meadowhall is renowned as a long-established regional shopping centre and it is an important part of Sheffield’s economy and attraction.”

He said it employs more than 8,000 people, more than 94 per cent living in the Sheffield City Region, and accounts for almost 20 per cent of the city’s business rates.

“However, Meadowhall is over 30 years old and is dominated by retail units. The centre needs investment, it needs to evolve and it needs to attract more leisure and food and beverage operators in order to widen the offer available and bring the centre up to modern standards.”

He said restrictions on the plans would mean that Meadowhall would complement rather than compete with the city centre and other centres. As well as the seven-year delay, the council has imposed a ‘no poaching’ agreement, meaning firms cannot shut their operations in other local centres to move in. There are restrictions on the type of goods that can be sold in the new shops.

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Mr Bloy pointed out that independent planning consultants told the council that the scheme’s impact on other centres was unlikely to be significant. He promised a Work Ready programme would be set up to help local people get new jobs that will be created. Councillors were divided about the plan and voted 6-3 to allow it go go ahead.

Coun Roger Davison said he thought there had been “a bit of Mystic Meg” meddling with figures quoted in support of the scheme, including what extra value it would add to the city and how many jobs would be created. He added: “I like to see that nobody benefits at the expense of anybody else. I am quite definite that some people are going to lose out massively.”

Coun Brian Holmshaw, who voted against, said there were too many uncertainties in the report about the potential effect on other centres. He also questioned whether British Land could achieve its aim of completing the scheme with net zero carbon emissions.

He asked: “Why do we want to damage Sheffield’s economy at this time or in the future? Rotherham is objecting to this, and if Rotherham can stand up for its town centre, why can’t Sheffield, too?”

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Coun Tom Hunt was worried that Meadowhall’s impact on leisure plans in nearby shopping centres could be higher than stated, as there is nothing to stop existing stores becoming leisure facilities. He mentioned the Ronnie O’Sullivan snooker store becoming Clubhouse, the first late-night licensed venue on Park Lane, featuring bowling, mini-golf, virtual reality darts and arcade games.

Coun Barbara Masters said she believes that both centres could benefit each other because of easy access between the city centre and Meadowhall.

Coun Peter Price said: “I’m the only person here who was at the original presentation with Eddie Healey and Paul Sykes, where they came to Labour group and promised a major retail and leisure centre that would replace the derelict Hadfield works, and they made this promise that not only would it be retail but it would be leisure.

“They said a sports hall and a leisure pool and a theatre. They never fulfilled that but we got the cinema as part of the thing, so it was always part of the original plan, and we welcomed it because it were some leisure facilities down in the East End, which was virtually devoid of any sort of leisure at all, so that’s why I do welcome this.

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“I am saddened with some of these negative responses because Meadowhall is not just in competition with the city centre, it’s in competition with Manchester Trafford Centre and Leeds Arndale Centre, who have all got much better leisure facilities in there, so that families can go for a day shopping and take their kids and leave them, and that’s what Meadowhall lacks in my view and always has lacked, that leisure bit.”

He added: “The city centre is changing, just like Meadowhall is changing. Unless we keep up with this we’re going to lose out.”