Is Meadowhall taking a big gamble with its leisure hall proposals? - Jayne Dowle

Over the years I’ve come to regard the presence of Meadowhall shopping centre as a necessary evil. I can’t say it’s my favourite place to shop, but then neither is any kind of mega-mall, as I much prefer pottering around markets and independent stores. But sometimes (make that quite often, actually) needs must.

Although Barnsley’s own new £210m Glassworks centre is impressive, it doesn’t have anything like the range of retailers Meadowhall offers.

Talking to friends and family around the region, and even beyond into Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire – who regularly make two-hour round trips to worship at South Yorkshire’s shrine to consumerism – I never take for granted the fact that one of the largest malls in the UK is just a 17-minute drive from my own front door.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

I should then be excited that plans to add a ‘leisure destination’ to the 290 stores, 50 bars and restaurants and an 11-screen cinema already enjoyed by millions of visitors every year, have won approval.

'I do wonder whether Meadowhall is taking a massive gamble here, in more ways than one.' PIC: James Hardisty.'I do wonder whether Meadowhall is taking a massive gamble here, in more ways than one.' PIC: James Hardisty.
'I do wonder whether Meadowhall is taking a massive gamble here, in more ways than one.' PIC: James Hardisty.

I am. For my children’s sake, although by the time it’s built, they will probably have children of their own. However, I do have some serious caveats.

Sheffield City Council planning committee finally agreed to the third version of the leisure plan submitted to members in the last four years – it’s been scaled down twice – after a lot of opposition.

This agreement means Meadowhall can now go ahead – but not until 2029, as a condition of the approval – with plans for an indoor recreation and leisure centre, shops, food and drink units, a cinema, police station and car showroom.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

These will be developed around the area currently occupied by The Source training academy, the area around the main centre and the M1 Distribution Centre.

The seven-year delay, it’s argued, is to minimise the effect on Sheffield and Rotherham city centres which have their own plans to mix shopping and leisure.

Inevitably there are already howls of protest from those who want to focus South Yorkshire attention on bringing both its major city centre up to modern scratch, with far more emphasis on leisure and live/work balance, and also encourage a new lease of life for ‘left-behind’ towns.

And, as has been proven positively in Barnsley, serious, committed retail-led regeneration really can massively improve the prospects of a faded town centre. Anyone who sees Glassworks, with its fountains and cocktail bars, multiplex cinema, rejuvenated market and designer shops such as Flannels, can’t fail to be impressed.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In Rotherham, there are plans at ‘Forge Island’ to build a hotel, cinema, restaurants and bars, all set in riverside gardens. And the town, which has had more than its fair share of troubles, certainly deserves all of this and more.

I’d argue that objectors on footfall grounds should really focus their energy on encouraging new opportunities to thrive in Rotherham and outlying parts of Sheffield, where acres are still desolate and nothing has come along to replace heavy industry, instead of worrying too much about the city centre.

City centres have always found a way, over the centuries, of surviving, adapting and evolving without too much interference from ‘place-makers’.

Whilst Sheffield may no longer be packed with buses bearing market-goers three, four or five days a week, and the future of the former John Lewis department store is still undecided, it has much going for it – not least more than 30,000 students, largely living it up.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Above all, however, my major issue is this. We’re in the midst of a cost of living crisis, with many economics commentators forecasting a full-blown recession by the end of the year.

I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t say what the state of the nation’s personal – or public - finances will be in seven years’ time.

Somehow though, I cannot see the situation transformed, whoever ends up in Westminster at the next General Election.

The problems we face as a country, including our reliance on other countries for that very basic necessity, energy, do not bode well.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

When we hear that UK households are prepared to write Christmas cards and play board games by candlelight to save an extra few pounds on heating their homes, I can’t see where the spare cash for having fun in a ‘leisure hall’ is going to come from, unless it’s running up ever-more expensive debts on the plastic.

I do wonder whether Meadowhall is taking a massive gamble here, in more ways than one.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​