What is the Future of Our High Streets?

Fri, May 14, 2021
5:30 PM – 7:00 PM BST
Online

As part of the Civic Trust’s ongoing work focussing on Sheffield’s ‘high ‘street’ and its development, we are pleased to invite our members and supporters to this affiliated event, part of the Festival of Debate.

This event brings together Sheffield Council officers and academics to discuss the future of the places we live, work and shop.

About this event

Covid-19 has only heightened pre-existing issues with the make-up of our high streets and city centres. The steady growth of online sales, matched with falling revenue in high street retail amidst soaring costs in rent and business rates, has resulted in key questions about the future of our city. This is compounded by the now-widespread adoption of remote working and the likely drop in the use of office space in Sheffield city centre.

This event brings together Council officers and academics to discuss the future of the places we live, work and shop. Sheffield’s recent hard-won bid for significant investment into the city centre could present some welcome solutions, but it’s clear that radical revisioning is required. What lies ahead for Sheffield’s high streets?

Speakers:

Julian Dobson – Hallam University & Event Chair

Professor Vanessa Toulmin – Director of City & Culture, Partnerships and Regional Engagement University of Sheffield

Nalin Seneviratne – Director – City Centre Development SCC

Jesse Matheson – University of Sheffield – CoPERI & Senior lecturer in economics

Sara Boonham – Sector lead for Town and City Regeneration at Gleeds

Rosie Dodgson – The Sheffield Civic Trust

Tomorrow’s High Street

“As large high-street retailers leave our city the future of Sheffield’s High Street is in question.  The Sheffield Civic Trust has been ambitiously exploring and debating this for many years and we believe the future of Sheffield’s high street lies in its past.

overall proposed masterplan, running through Sheffield's central axis, from Moorfoot Junction - proposed as an adventure playground - through to the Wicker Arches - reimagined as Wicker Highline, an elevated park along the unused Victoria Station line
overall proposed masterplan, running through Sheffield’s central axis, from Moorfoot Junction – proposed as an adventure playground – through to the Wicker Arches – reimagined as Wicker Highline, an elevated park along the unused Victoria Station line

Historically Sheffield has always had a uniquely linear high-street   Its elongated nature enables it to stretch from Moorfoot to the Wicker, connecting the city centre to thriving neighbourhoods and out to our beloved Peak District. It has the possibility of becoming a luscious extension of the ‘Grey to Green’; a route where pedestrians and cyclists are prioritised and existing nodes repurposed to create destinations where people can live, work, and relax.

Large high-street retailers aid our high street, but they do not define it.  We should celebrate, diversify and utilise our existing high street to create a sustainable ‘Tomorrows High Street’ for Sheffield!”

IS THE SHOP REALLY FINISHED?

by Chris Bell, Trustee

Back in the 1960s when I was seven years old my Dad bought the family grocery business. I remember his Dad, who had run a similar shop in Hillsborough since the war, tutting and telling him that retail is finished. After his retirement, I ended up running my grandfather’s shop for a couple of years in the 1980s before moving on to work in advertising where I dealt with the much less than glamorous world of media buying for retail advertisers.

I do not presume this experience qualifies me as a retail expert, but the death of the shop and retail has been predicted in many forms over the years, and with what’s happening now in the high streets I wonder if this fear is exaggerated, or possibly completely wrong.

Local authorities up and down the land are ‘repurposing’ shopping areas in ways that don’t need shops as if no one will ever go shopping again. They are desperately seeking some other uses instead of shops with which to fill the town centres.

However, I think it is premature to right the shop off. Some areas of retail appear to be making more money than ever now because sales are displaced from other shops. Shops are making money at the expense of the hospitality sector. Some of the people who have lost their jobs during COVID are going to set up businesses at some stage as we try to build ourselves out of the recession and there are many people, like me, in traditional office jobs now working from home who are still earning as before but have had limited opportunity to spend their hard-earned cash.

Now I work in a planning role, and this working from home malarkey ain’t easy at the moment, I am busy. That’s largely because all the developers who are normally splitting their workload between planning and delivery are allocating any spare time when they cannot be on-site to move future plans forward at a quicker rate.

Also, there looks to be, once COVID has passed, an appetite to support renewal. The Government may put their hand in their (or our) pockets to fund ventures.

Over in the US President Biden has noted the impact of the huge monopolies (Amazon and Google etc) on free trade and the spectre of legislation faces them. Similarly over here the question is being asked about their place in society.

So as we come out of lockdown there will be an opportunity for businesses if not making money to claim market share from the holes that have been created in the High Street. There will be people looking to set up businesses to get out of unemployment. There will be people who have spare cash craving the opportunity to have something to spend it on. There will be businesses with plans to deliver. There are likely to be incentives from the Government to grow the economy, and lots of available shop space.

I recall back in the noughties Pubs were being written off. Beer was cheaper at the supermarket. The smoking ban kicked in. Converting licenced premises to residential offered greater returns than beer! But, I think it is safe to say with the Craft Beer revolution and growth of micro-pubs the market bounced back.

Similarly, I think shop-retail will too. Like the pubs back then there are wider economic factors at work. Shop-based retail has to compete with e-commerce now. Something will give and open up markets. Shops may become better at creating their online presence and become showrooms for wider ranges of products. We had the experimental shop ‘Clicks and Mortar’ trying this in Sheffield and John Lewis have their model where stores and online complement each other. Competitive markets attract more retail space. Since Aldi, Netto and Lidl joined the food retail scene in the UK I think it is accurate to say the numbers of Sainsbury and Tesco outlets grew as competition increased.

So I hope as the vaccine starts to work and the new normal kicks in we will see a return to the High Street. This may be different to before. It may be that we don’t have clone towns anymore. New retail innovators will appear. There are more people living in city centres now, perhaps more food retail will be needed in these locations. Rents may come down.

Therefore I predict shop based retail to evolve (mutate like the virus if you like) rather than disappear. Local authorities should look at the type of retail we have and ask if we can shift the focus back into traditional shopping areas and away from out of town? They should look at trying to encourage new local ventures and look at the opportunities it offers as well as the challenges it faces and ask if high street retail will really shrink as much as they think it will.

On top of their competitive tax position, many local authorities, when they see a big number of new jobs they attract, bend over backwards to attract retail distribution centres and ignore how it affects the High Street. However, I predict a more balanced approach to this will emerge. So when my Grandfather said retail was dead back in the ’60s what he was seeing was evolution and rather than extinction and I think that is the same today.

This comment piece was written before the announcement of John Lewis not to reopen its Sheffield City Centre store, along with 8 other locations. It does not change the authors opinions and suggestions of the local retail landscape, and people’s attitudes to retail.

HotC II Block H consultation event

As a key stakeholder in the development of the Heart of the City II development, Sheffield Civic Trust have been asked to contribute to the pre-application consultation on the next phase (Block H) of the development, bounded by Cambridge and Wellington Street, and including the Grade II* Listed Leah’s Yard.

As supporters and members of the Trust, we would like to extend the information regarding the public events providing the opportunity to see the plans and speak to the project team.

Wednesday 25 March 202015:30-19:00
Thursday 26 March 2020
11:00-16:00

38-40 Pinstone Street
(most recently home to ‘Clicks and Mortar’)
Sheffield
S1 2HN

Trustees who are able to attend will be at the event on 25th March from 6pm. Please join us if possible as we review the latest proposals and talk to the project team.

For those that cannot attend in person, the dedicated website (www.heartofcity2.com) has been updated to include information about the current pre-application consultation. Visitors to the website will have the opportunity to complete an online response form about these proposals.

If you would like comments to be included in the Civic Trust’s response, please forward all comments to info@sheffieldcivictrust.org.uk.

A PDF of the Stakeholder briefing note is available to download here: http://sheffieldcivictrust.org.uk/block-h-consultation-brochure/

Response to Heart of the City 2, Block B & C consultation

Sheffield Civic Trust Feedback
in response to the consultation on Sheffield’s Heart of the City 2, Block B & C

Sheffield Civic Trust (SCT) thanks Queensbury, Counter Context and the design team at Leonard Design, for presenting the current proposals for The Heart of the City 2 to the membership.
The Trust recognises how the briefing from Sheffield City Council has resulted in the retention of much loved heritage buildings, despite their non designated status. The City Council’s vision in acting as client and driving the brief to the benefit of the city is welcomed.
SCT support the scheme especially on the following aspects;
– the horizontal mix of use i.e. retail at street level with apartments and offices at the upper levels
– access to upper floors with entrances from the street
– the block by block, phased approach outlined in the presentation
– the focus on a mix of uses that the current market is not supporting i.e. 2/3 bedroom apartments with quality external space rather than student housing.
– retention of the existing street pattern
– high-quality public space, that continues the approach taken throughout the city centre
– proposed historic façade retention.

Detailed design comments
Whilst the façade retention is welcomed, the gridded façade ‘folding’ into the existing pitched roof of the existing building (Laycock House) was considered awkward in some members’ minds. As this is a prominent corner, a more sensitive design solution should be considered.
The architectural treatment of corners of both blocks on to the new ‘5 ways’ are a great opportunity for the designers. Seven Dials in London’s Covent Garden was raised as a good precedent for the design. It was felt that the opportunity to mark this significant meeting of streets has been missed in the current design.
It was felt that the glazing proportions proposed within the new buildings should respect the order and hierarchy of the existing street facades more closely. Fenestration which denotes a top, middle and bottom may be more successful. The tendency towards expressing the top of the buildings in ‘zinc hats’ should be avoided, given their prevalence in speculative schemes over the last decade. The proposal for vertical stripes at the top of Laycock House currently give the appearance of cladding, similar to that used recently on a prominent car park in the city. Higher quality materials and detailing rather than the cladding shown are felt to be more appropriate. For instance the larger duplex units that top Block B could be
expressed whilst retaining the materials and architectural language of the rest of the block.
The servicing of the retail units from pedestrianised roads rather than a dedicated service yard is welcomed but will require careful management. This could ensure the strategy to reduce traffic congestion works, by encouraging workers to linger in the city centre after work.

Over view
The current approach of developing the Heart of the City 2 block by block has great potential for a rich and diverse mix of architecture uses and streets in the heart of our city. This richness is emerging in the
public realm, which looks both complex and exciting and is all about Sheffield.. The retention of historic facades will reinforce this diversity and local identity. However of concern is the emerging similarity in the building designs to date. The architectural expression of grids and cladding now emerging on the HSBC building is to be repeated on Blocks B&C. This reinforces the Trust’s belief that a more diverse range of designers should be employed to tie the scheme better to its context.
For future plots, we would welcome a commitment from SCC to promote more variation and design quality by committing to either design competitions or a diverse mix of designers/architects for each plot .
This approach was adopted at Liverpool One and has resulted in a wide range of architecture which enhances the experience of the city. Liverpool One avoids any uniformity or blandness in favour of a rich sequence of spaces and buildings which knit the development into the city – We do not want the blandness of Meadowhall transplanted into our city. We do want a more distinctive, new heart to our city that says ‘Sheffield!’
We hope that Sheffield City Council will consider supporting local suppliers in the awarding of the construction contracts, and proactively implement the Social Value Act, by considering inclusion of local labour clauses as appropriate when commissioning the development.
Whilst the aim for high quality city centre living with a range of types of dwelling is laudable, the City Council should have a long-term plan for a range of ownership, to avoid gentrification that precludes a fair and equitable city centre for its citizens.
We look forward to seeing the planning application in due course, and to engaging with the relevant parties as the Heart of the City 2 scheme goes forward.

Louise Watt
Chair Sheffield Civic Trust
on behalf of the Trustees.
October 2018

GREAT BRITISH SELL OFF AND COMMUNITY ASSET TRANSFER

In June this year Locality, which is the national membership charity of community organisations, launched Save our Spaces. This is a campaign to save buildings and spaces that have come to be seen as a maintenance liability to councils from being sold off into private ownership. Losing public buildings and green spaces to private enterprise is bound to deplete our social fabric – often involving shareholders and thus the private organisation’s duty to take profits out from that asset to pay their shareholder dividends.

An alternative already exists. Community Asset Transfer was set up in 2003, whereby councils may sell assets to community organisations at below market rates in exchange for demonstrable community benefit.

Community ownership is an alternative to private or public ownership. It involves a community organisation legally set up for the public benefit that makes an asset available to the whole community without private or public commercial gain.

While alarm about the Great British Sell-Off has been circulating for a few years, and despite community asset transfer being the third option, Locality has discovered that fewer than half Local Authorities have an asset transfer policy.

Sheffield City Council has set up The Community Right to Bid which is billed as giving ‘people of Sheffield the chance to bid, to buy and take over the running of assets that are considered of value to the local community which are being sold by the current owners’. A community needs to nominate and successfully have registered the asset (a Council process). Once this is completed, my understanding is that the owner cannot sell it for purposes outside the community benefit it brings – though they don’t have to sell it to that particular community group. So that when the owner wants to sell it, the scheme allows the community group six months to make an offer to buy the asset.

Clearly, this calls on active and co-operative citizenship. As the saying goes: ‘less talk, more do’.

THE RAYNSFORD REVIEW – NINE PROPOSITIONS FOR A NEW PLANNING SYSTEM

Those not directly connected with planning or the built environment may have missed the fact that a major review of the planning system has been underway. Headed by the Town and Country Planning Association,  Nick Raynsford (whose previous career includes being Director of Shelter, MP and Shadow Minister for Housing and Construction) has built this report following months of research and analysis. The Interim Report was published in May.  It makes fascinating reading. 

The executive summary gives you a taster:

If there is one striking conclusion to be drawn from the work of the Raynsford Review to date, it is that the current planning system in England does not work effectively in the long-term public  interest of communities or the nation. Putting this right requires a forensic examination of the current planning system and the many myths which surround it.

(Raynsford Review Interim Report V6, vii)

Nine propositions are made, the first being that planning should be in the public interest (which currently often doesn’t happen). The report recognises that reliance on market mechanisms has been unable to deliver ‘a wide range of public interest outcomes’. The second proposition is to fill the void of what the purpose of planning is by setting its definition in legislation:

The purpose of the planning system is to positively promote the spatial organisation of land in order to achieve long-term sustainable development. In the Planning Acts, ‘sustainable development’ means managing the use, development and protection of land, the built environment and natural resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural well-being while sustaining the potential of future generations to meet their own needs.

The propositions continue with: a powerful, people-centred planning system; commitment to meeting people’s basic needs; simplified planning law; and alignment of infrastructure across agencies. Proposition 8 grapples with the need for ‘a fairer way to share land values’, to find a constructive way out from land speculation. It looks at three options, including ‘an element of betterment taxation, as part of capital gains tax, which should be directed towards regeneration in low-demand areas.’  Lastly, it recognises the essential element of planners themselves to be pulled up from their low morale, for them to culture imaginative, creative and visionary qualities ‘not to impose upon communities, but to inspire action by offering real options for the future of places’. To achieve this, it states, reform is needed for the education, ethics and professional development of planners. And finally this ‘requires a system, supported by necessary resources, that values high-quality and inclusive outcomes as much as it values speed of performance.’

You can read critique behind the lines – more importantly, you can read how to right these ills. That is, if only the government will adopt it.

Castlegate: Fairytale or Phoenix

Tuesday 20th March, saw the latest of the Sheffield Civic Trust public talks, with this one focusing on the future of the Castlegate area of Sheffield City Centre.

Over 70 people attended two illuminating and interesting presentations. The first from, Simon Ogden, Sheffield City Council’s Head of City Regeneration, on the latest progress of plans for the Castlegate area. The second was from Valerie Bayliss, of the Castlegate Preservation Trust and the Save Sheffield Old Town Hall campaign,  on the aspirations of the Castlegate Trust.

If you would like to see Simon’s presentation from the evening then please click HERE. Below are are summary of both presentations.

Harnessing the past for the future

Simon Ogden highlighted the draw of the Moor following the move of the market and other retail that had been located in the Castlegate area. Now the Castlegate area needs a new focus on what its function is. He rued the down-at-heel impression that visitors staying in hotels clustered there are currently experiencing.

 

He pointed to interesting elements of this area such as Victoria Quays Sheffield Canal Basin, so close, which as yet are still detached and segmented and by the old road layout, and which fail to fully attract the attention they deserve.

Not only is there potential to combine some cool canal heritage atmosphere with the sturdy Victorian and Edwardian heritage above the castle area, but also with proposals for the castle site. One exciting idea involves an elevated ramp above the castle site where people could watch archaeology happening. Current archaeological knowledge is largely reliant on the work of two amateur archaeologists working in the mid C20, Leslie Butcher and Albert Armstrong. The ambition is to undertake further archaeological investigations. You can find more details by clicking HERE.

There is  significant masonry under the ground of the castle site. Archaeological investigations will, in addition to adding knowledge, also tell us the story of Sheffield Castle, a narrative to engage both Sheffielders and visitors. 

Simon set out the aims of development for funding bids for the Castle site including:

  • Overcoming the failed Heritage Lottery Funding Bid for archaeological excavation, including a trench plan.
  • Uncovering the River Sheaf through the site and creation of a riverside  Pocket Park with improved River Stewardship.
  • Extending the Grey to Green Project along Castlegate and into the revamped Exchange Square area which can be reconfigured to work as event space. This is undergoing local consultation currently
  • Public involvement enhanced by ‘The Pier’ a raised viewing walkway over the site, to enable the public to view works from above. 

Of the wider Castlegate area Simon spoke of harnessing the past for the future and working with positive partnerships, such as the City Region Infrastructure Fund (SCRIF). Many of the old buildings are vacant or only occupied at ground floor level. These kinds of buildings could appeal to tech companies and creative industries who look for interesting office spaces. Certainly the plan is to bring new life to these old buildings as Sheffield Hallam University have done, making the old Post Office into the Sheffield Institute of Arts. And new life is under way with the conversion of the former toilets at Blonk St Bridge which will form the Two Rivers café; and Tamper cafés aim to create a Foodhall  in the area.  

The Old Town Hall

Valerie Bayliss’ talk was modulated and factual on a subject that is clearly close to her heart. It was all the more powerful for her measured delivery which remained in place even when she criticised the organisation of her fellow speaker, Sheffield City Council (SCC). Interested readers can go to the websites on the Old Town Hall: https://friendsofothsheffield.wordpress.com/ and  http://sheffieldoldtownhall.co.uk/

In brief, when the Courts, which had taken over the Old Town Hall when the current Town Hall was built to accommodate city government, Sheffield City Council sold it to central government.  In 1995 the Department for Environment sold it to G1 Properties. Since that time it has fallen into serious decay. Images of the building in various stages of dilapidation were shown, some from Urban Explorers since no one had legal access to the building. There is now serious water damage, floors have collapsed, walls have peeled. But these aren’t any walls and ceilings. These were once fine examples, as Valerie’s slides showed, of ornate architraves, intricate ironwork and wonderful oak panelling.

 

In 2007, when this Grade 2 listed building was placed into the UK’s top ten most endangered buildings, a group of seriously concerned citizens set up the Friends of the Old Town Hall. They have done a lot of work, working in partnership with Sheffield City Council, The Heritage Lottery Fund, the Architectural Heritage Fund, and local organisations.  

The task ahead is enormous. The cost of repair following a condition survey and viability assessment  is put at around £10 million. 

A reader may wonder why the council hasn’t used its Compulsory Purchase powers or emergency repairs notice. One might wonder how legislation hasn’t yet been amended by central government since this legislation requires that should a council be unsuccessful in  extracting corrective action from the delinquent owner(s), they must then themselves pay for the repairs themselves. Now  in 2018, after several years of this government’s budget pressures on local authorities, this is clearly not an option.

In recent weeks there was movement at the Old Town Hall. People unknown to the SCC arrived and entered the building, apparently to install further measures to secure the building. It is believed the owners have appointed an architect to look at the building for residential use which is surprising as the study commissioned by the Friends of the Old Town Hall found this not to be a viable option.

 

 

 

Sheffield Central Library: Whither civic pride in Feb 2017?

Mick Nott February 2017

Mick is an active trustee with Sheffield Civic Trust.  He writes in a personal capacity.

Hi, it is now just over 2 months since SCC agreed to grant 12 months exclusivity to an investor to conduct a feasibility study about converting the Sheffield Central Library building into a 5* hotel.  I wrote a blog post that was published a month ago, see – http://sheffieldcivictrust.org.uk/sheffield-central-library-civic-pride/

This post is an update containing what more has happened, what more I know and I advise on what I think campaigners could do if they want to slow down this possible development.

Comments are welcome and if I will respond – but maybe not immediately!

What has happened?

In the previous post I didn’t note that SCC’s Economic and Environmental Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee had discussed the exclusivity decision on 15 December 2016.  The discussion was lengthy and Cabinet councillors and SCC officers attended to answer queries.  The minutes are here: http://democracy.sheffield.gov.uk/documents/g6571/Printed%20minutes%20Thursday%2015-Dec-2016%2014.30%20Economic%20and%20Environmental%20Wellbeing%20Scrutiny%20and%20Polic.pdf?T=1

Many members of the public raised questions and concerns as well as the councillors on the committee, e.g. what are or would be:

  • the pros and cons of renovation/refurbishment of current building v leasing for development;
  • the plans for continuity and development of central library services in any case;
  • the particulars and nature of the agreement of the company with which SCC have signed the exclusivity agreement.

The answers are more detailed but similar to the ones that had been given in the public meetings after the exclusivity decision was made on 30 November 2016.

The Scrutiny Committee is important because it can call-in Cabinet decisions for review and there were two call-ins at the December 2016  meeting, one on the plans and one on the nature of the agreement.

  • A Scrutiny Committee can refer a decision back to Cabinet for reconsideration and is, in my view (other than direct action!), the sole way that Cabinet can be politically made accountable.
  • The Scrutiny Committee agreed to discuss the plans and decisions about SCL at the Scrutiny Committee meeting on 26 April 2017 (first meeting of FY17/18).

Cllrs, officers, library staff and campaigners went a tour of Liverpool Library.

  • Liverpool have recently renovated their library and been rewarded with an increase in visitor numbers and the library is next to a museum and an art gallery.
  • It was remarked that the developer had already mentioned that he may need to add more floors and/or an annex to the SCL building to convert it to a 5* hotel.

A meeting of concerned citizens, cllrs, officers, buildings and library staff was organised by cllrs and held at the Library.  The meeting consisted of a tour of the building and a discussion with staff, and then staff and cllrs.

  • The tour confirmed that the building is in a poor state and needs major works (subject of another blog) but we knew that already.

The library staff present stated that:

  • access for people with disabilities was inadequate for the C21st and the library theatre is not compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and would be very difficult to make so within the envelope of the current building;
  • was dilapidated and could be uncomfortable for staff (damp, temperature etc) to work in
  • the 1930s physical structure hindered flexibility of staffing, eg multi-tasking on requests, and updating IT and number of computer terminals for a C21st library service;
  • a library shd have performance space (but not necessarily a formal theatre space);
  • it is desirable to bring back archives for staffing and access within the same space as loans, reference, local studies and children’s;
  • a relocation to within the retail quarter may not be inappropriate.

Concerned citizens asked:

  • how could the developer guarantee a 5* hotel as these we were awarded by independent inspection and 5* classification was earned not built to order?
  • if the building were to be gutted (which the possible development would do anyway) and then could it be reconfigured with and extended as in extensive plans and costings drawn up for SCC in 2003 ((1) (which had addressed the DDA and expanding the space available)), and the feasibility study, again for SCC, of 2013?
  • as the Sheffield Cultural Commission had identified the library and art gallery as important buildings and cultural, tourist destinations (Surrey St Central project) in 2015 and 2016 then why had SCC not met up with ARUP as planned?

Jack Scott said he would look into these issues.

Following the money

One of the grounds that the Scrutiny Committee (see above) called-in the Cabinet decision to scrutinise the “…Strategic Investment Partnership Agreement with Guodong and the 12-month Exclusivity Agreement on the potential redevelopment of the Central Library building”.

I was confused in December about who SCC have struck a deal with.  SCC have signed the  agreement concerning the library with Guodong UK Limited (Guodong).  This is a  is a private company first filed with Companies House on 9 May 2016.  The Director and sole shareholder of the initial 100 shares with a capital value of £100 is Chunming Wang and its secretary is Liu Yuan (his son-in-law).  It has to file its first accounts by 31 May 2018.

  • Mr Wang owns the private company Chengdu Guodong Nanyuan Investment Co. Ltd. (CGNICLtd) that has its main interests in hotel management.
  • This company is a subsidiary of the Sichuan Guodong Construction Company Group Ltd (SGCCGLtd) which is a private company also owned by Mr Wang.
  • The Sichuan Guodong Construction Company Group Ltd (SGCCGLtd) holds shares in the Sichuan Guodong Construction Company Ltd (SGCCLtd).  This  is a publicly quoted company on the Shanghai Stock Exchange and Chunming Wang is Chairman of the Board.
  • I have heard that Guodong UK Ltd needed to be created so that Mr Wang has a company to which he can transfer money from his companies in China to a UK company.
  • I think people would like more detail about what SCC has agreed with whom and when and in my view that is a job of the Scrutiny Committee.

I have put a bit more detail into this document https://docs.google.com/document/d/1NNmzBH_b0v7SF415MulCJNcLeWj8H23yF4Zx21OG8h4/edit?usp=sharing.  When SCC originally announced the agreement to work together with Mr Wang and his companies the BBC quickly followed up with an interview with Mr Wang in July 2016, see https://youtu.be/efVysmaQpC0.  At the time Mr Wang said he saw the need for a 5* hotel in Sheffield.

What do people want?

  • Cllrs want to “keep the wheels on the wagon” and if the prospect is to raise all SCC’s funds from 2020, when central government grants will cease, through business rates, council tax and services then any investment will look attractive.

  • People need and want a C21st library service in the centre of the city close to public transport and with DDA-compliant access.

  • People need and want a DDA-compliant auditorium that can be used by amateur and professional companies to stage productions at affordable rents.

  • People need and want a DDA-compliant public art gallery accessible at all times (nb the Graves Gallery is currently not open on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesday mornings and Bank Holidays.  No other core city closes its main galleries for two whole consecutive days and times when people are on public holidays)

  • The library building is listed and was envisaged from the 1990s within the award-winning Heart of the City project as an integral part of the public, civic buildings and spaces that includes the route (2) from the railway station to Barkers Pool and includes, Sheaf Square, Howard St, Millenium Galleries, Surrey St/Tudor Square, Central Library, Crucible, Lyceum, Winter Gardens, Peace Gardens, Barkers Pool and City Hall.  In my mind (and I know it has some faults) this is an inspired example of city centre design that provides a pleasant, attractive and integrated set of buildings and spaces for people walk around, visit and enjoy at their leisure.

  • People need to be re-assured that in any case that there will be no break or discontinuity in central library services and that there will be library services in the city centre close to public transport.

What can be done?

My view is that this process feels very unclear and rushed with no clear plans or alternatives to Mr Wang’s wants being offered for people, citizens and councillors, to consider or discuss.  The first stage to slow the process down and make the Cabinet accountable would be through the Economic and Environmental Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee meeting on 26 April 2017.  The political strategies would be

  • lobby this meeting through an e-petition on SCC website (3)

  • ask the chair of the committee to be allowed to attend the meeting and present a case for referring the decision back (4)

  • lobby members of the committee.  Any citizen can ask a councillor, who represents their ward and sits on the Scrutiny Committee, questions to raise wrt particular items on the Scrutiny Committee’s agenda.

  • any citizen can ask a question of the committee. You can write to your councillor or see them at one of their surgeries (5)

 (1). SCC commissioned a firm of architects to propose possible alternatives for SCL.  These were produced for SCC in 2003 (and can be seen as part of completing Heart of the City).  We have seen copies of these six proposals for the current building (and an additional proposal on a new, unspecified site) and believe the six proposals for the current SCL:

  1. contained detail of renovating and updating the building’s interior and access (to make it DDA compliant);

  2. they have (2003) costings but more detail is requ’d;

  3. there is aesthetic and functional merit in each proposal but obviously all would need proper planning scrutiny.

(2). This is the Gold Route and actually finishes at the University of Sheffield.  The current works at the University will be the end of the route.

(3). “Petitions with 2,500 or more signatures can require a senior officer to give evidence at a Scrutiny Committee. Petitions with 5,000 or more signatures will trigger a public debate by Full Council. We require 7 working days’ notice prior to a Council meeting for a public debate at Full Council to ensure that members have adequate time to prepare for the debate.”

(4). In the case of Scrutiny Committees, this can also involve evidence from people and organisations outside of the Council and it can sometimes take several meetings before the Scrutiny Committee reaches its conclusions and makes any recommendations to the Cabinet or Council.

(5). You have to give 24h notice of the question and attend the meeting to ask the question. See https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/your-city-council/have-your-say.html and follow the links!

 Economic and Environmental Wellbeing Scrutiny Cttee

The Committee members list is here http://democracy.sheffield.gov.uk/mgCommitteeDetails.aspx?ID=136

Click on the link and you get the cllr’s profile, surgery hours and contact details.

Contacting cllrs by email ensures you have a record of your query: date, time and content.

Each member has a substitute member from their ward.

Member

Party

Ward

Councillor Steve Wilson  (Chair)

Lab

East Ecclesfield

Councillor Ian Auckland  (Deputy Chair)

LibDem

Graves Park

Councillor Penny Baker

LibDem

Stannington

Councillor Lisa Banes

Lab

Manor Castle

Councillor Neale Gibson

Lab

Walkley

Councillor Dianne Hurst

Lab

Richmond

Councillor Talib Hussain

Lab

Burngreave

Councillor Abdul Khayum

Lab

Firth Park

Councillor Helen Mirfin-Boukouris

Lab

Beighton

Councillor Ben Miskell

Lab

Park & Arbourthorne

Councillor Robert Murphy

Green

City

Councillor Andy Nash

LibDem

Beauchief & Greenhill

Councillor Chris Peace

Lab

Gleadless Valley

Councillor Martin Smith

LibDem

Dore & Totley

Councillor Paul Wood

Lab

Woodhouse

 

 

Sheffield Civic Trust Response to the Sheffield Retail Quarter (SRQ) Consultation

srq-sandstone-edge-concept
SRQ ‘sandstone edge’ design concept (image: http://www.sheffieldretailquarter.com/)

1.         Introduction

The Sheffield Civic Trust (SCT) held a supplementary consultation event in June 2015 on proposals for the Sheffield Retail Quarter which ran alongside the main consultation. This was widely advertised through our supporters network via the SCT newsletter. The Sheffield Retail Quarter team is to be commended for committing time and effort to the SCT event and to committing to a continuing process of consultation.

The event was well attended and this, along with a briefing held earlier in the year with SCC lead officer, Nalin Seneviratne and SCT Trustee’s feedback from the official consultation, forms the basis of the Trust’s response.

The SCT has featured some of the detailed comments received on the SCT blog. We have also put out a call for further comment and contributions and aim to submit these to the Sheffield Retail Quarter team as a continuing process.

 

2.         Overview

The challenge of the earlier Sevenstone scheme was how to integrate a shopping centre into the centre of the city. For this new scheme, the SCT wants to see a renewed city centre with great streets and squares and retail/offices and homes – rather than a stealth shopping centre or a quarter only designed for the needs of retail.

We recognise that the scheme proposed is bold, creating new streets linked to new and existing public spaces. The scheme is shaping up with an emphasis on streets, quality of spaces and conservation of historic buildings – all these aspects are welcomed and supported by the Trust. The feedback here is intended to be detailed, informed and positive. We have reviewed various themes that have been raised during the consultation and we aim to make clear recommendations on this basis.

3.         Renewing our city centre

The scheme clearly responds well to the feedback from retailers. The new Fargate, the square outside John Lewis and the linking street back to the Peace Gardens and Pinstone Street form a circulation route of desirable retail space. It is like the diagram of a shopping centre made up of open air streets and squares: this works well but does result in large block sizes.

The challenge will be for this new development to fit well with the existing grain of the city centre and not appear as a new monolithic development. The conservation of various buildings within the development area is a good start but the proposals are still indicative and the model shows monolithic blocks and large plots.

The city centre is made up of a mix of uses and to work well as a safe and lively place throughout the day and across the seasons a monoculture of single use must be avoided. This scheme has the potential to increase density and the mix of uses right at the centre of our city. It will be essential to achieve mixed use horizontally (in layers) as continental cities do to create an vibrant city centre.

The residential component of this plan is underdeveloped in the current plans. Perhaps The City Council are worried that rooftop residential development will add risk to the scheme. There is enthusiasm within SCT for innovative urban housing design, offering a fantastic city centre neighbourhood that sets the standard for urban living in the UK.

Whilst the accent on mixed use is vital to a vibrant city centre, the impact of more intensive  noise-generating use on other users must be considered carefully.

The increase in density and double stacking of units should allow for the planning of shops at street level with apartments, offices and facilities for city centre residents above (gyms, galleries, social places, etc). Offices that also break the mould might be included and it follows that access to offices, facilities and homes should be from doorways on the streets. This will ensure activity and safe streets 24/7. This mix of uses could also result in a more varied and richer roofscape.

One representation we received from a long time supporter, Matthew Conduit is worth quoting here : “Without a mix of different design approaches, there is a danger of the scheme looking and feeling like one massive shopping centre development, rather than an extension to a mixed urban and vibrant street scene.”

Disability access should be considered at this early stage of planning to ensure a fully accessible development.

It is important that there should be facilities for families who come into the city centre because it makes life easier when having to take small children shopping. Play space could include small climbing sculptures and have dual purpose, both artistic and useful!

 

Recommendations:

  • that a rich mix of uses be achieved
  • that the density of development and activity must be maximised
  • doorways and stairs/lift cores to upper level uses should face the street
  • facilities for city centre residents should be included in the mix
  • that the opportunity to build innovative urban housing design is not missed
  • that the type of homes should offer alternatives to the current offer i.e. apartments for people downsizing with appropriate amenities
  • the type of offices should offer alternatives to the current offer i.e. upper floor large floor plate, large span, top lit offices work?
  • design for disability access should be built in to design from the beginning
  • green space and sensitive landscape design are essential
  • play space in the public domain areas should be considered.

4.         Identity

The importance of this development being ‘Sheffield like’ and not like any other city has come up in most conversations. The recent outcry about the loss of independent traders in the Devonshire Quarter demonstrates this, people love their city because it is different and has a strong streak of independence. How the designers meet this challenge will be key to the success of the retail quarter.

It is understood that the proposals do not show the architecture of the developed scheme and that what we see on the model and 3d drawings is indicative. Concern was raised at the consultation presentation about ‘the architectural character of the proposal’ and the need for the place to be ‘individual, unique to Sheffield – not like Guildford’ and this view  is shared by many people.

The proposal for an RIBA competition from The Sheffield Society of Architects is a welcome one, and the selection of a range of the best architectural talent as designers for the buildings will ensure variety and specific responses to Sheffield’s identity.

The illustration of the new square demonstrates the worry many have expressed as it looks like it could be a retail quarter in Liverpool, Birmingham or Manchester, or even the Middle East. It is dynamic and may sell the scheme to retailers but the reaction from Sheffielders is that it is not the image of their city. The quality of this crucial new square needs to build on the characteristics of our much loved public space – craftsmanship, quality materials and planting. The architectural backdrop needs to speak of or respond to Sheffield in some way.

It is essential that all of the streets and public spaces within the new scheme’s layout are genuinely public space and not spaces which just have public rights of ways through them. It would be retrograde step if any streets which are currently completely open are downgraded to become managed quasi-public/private space and lose their open access.

The quality of landscape will be vital and should build on the character of the city and its many green spaces, as has been achieved in the Heart of the City development.

Recommendations:

  • serious consideration of how the scheme differentiates from other city centres must  be made and set out in the briefs for the designers.
  • that the blocks be designed as smaller plots of individually designed buildings to ensure variation and a distinct character
  • designers/architects should be selected on the basis of  location, design quality and competition
  • we specifically support an RIBA competition for at least one building plot as suggested by the Sheffield Society of Architects
  • that a mixed design procurement approach is taken to ensure that some smaller, less ‘corporate’ design studios contribute.
  • The Sheffield Retail Quarter must feel like a continuous part of our city centre and be accessible to all, with no gates or privatisation.

 

5. Connections / the anchor stores

The design concept is reliant on the anchors of the large department stores – M&S and John Lewis. M&S is currently well integrated into Fargate, however the large store proposed at the end of new Fargate acts as a full stop, that turns its back on Trafalgar Street and the area beyond, and will discourage pedestrian flow through this part of the site to Fitzwilliam Street, Devonshire Green and Division Street. The car park, potential bus/taxi drop off, service area and click and collect proposals behind this anchor store all have the potential to exacerbate this disconnection.

The all important sightline from Fargate to the new John Lewis has been questioned. It is a strong generator cutting across the street pattern, but the line is not completely straight and clear and will it work as conceived? Some were not convinced by the sightline when looking at the model. Perhaps the revealing of the store is a better townscape principal – think the gently curving Oxford High Street and Gordon Cullen’s work where experiencing the sequence of spaces and the staged revealing of a street or place makes for a better experience.

The long view along the new Fargate to the new anchor (John Lewis) looks to be dominated by the revamped Telephone House. From both the model and sketch perspectives this slab block that will sit behind John Lewis could dominate this important vista. Accurate computer generated Images and detailed studies are needed to convince us that this key view will work. The massing and external treatment of the new store will be essential to the success of the sight line and vista along the new Fargate.

There is clearly strong support for John Lewis remaining in the city centre and for it to be one of the anchors but there is no plan B if John Lewis does not agree to move. It is therefore a major  concern that the current scheme is dependant on the current store being demolished.

If the existing John Lewis store is demolished then its replacement should have a sense of grandeur, civic pride and scale that its prominent position in Barkers Pool and opposite City Hall demands. It is important that this replacement building is given as much attention as the new ‘anchor store’.

It is also important that Barker’s Pool does not feel downgraded or bypassed as the back of the new scheme. Barker’s Pool is a much loved civic space and proud home of the city’s war memorial. The new Fargate will be an important pedestrian access route into the new scheme but this shouldn’t be prioritised over Barkers Pool. The circulation pattern could be more like a Y-shape with one branch leading into the new scheme and the other leading into Barkers Pool and towards Division Street.

Recommendations:

  • convincing pedestrian links past the new dept store (John Lewis) to Devonshire Quarter need to made
  • the key sight line to John Lewis and sequence as the pedestrian moves through the new streets needs to be explored and communicated
  • a contingency scheme/ plan “B” is needed should John Lewis not move
  • Barker’s Pool must be considered as an important public space and link through to Division Street.

 

6.         Future proofing, displacement and meanwhile uses

There has been much discussion within the SCT  about what retail will look like in 20/30 and even 50 years time and how the retail quarter will respond to this. Currently the retail space proposed responds to the views and needs of potential tenants, but is the large floor plate, deep plan, narrow frontage space future proof – if these stores are moving towards a showroom with pick up, are the floor plates shown the future and can flexibility be built in?

 

The current scheme has two strong anchor stores, M&S and John Lewis and a new circuit, drawing the city centre onwards the core and shortening the retail spine. This raises the issue of displacement. As the retail spine reduces in length what replaces the empty units on Castlegate? The displacement of shops with other sustainable uses needs to be planned and be integral to the current plans.

Recommendations:

  • that future patterns of shopping are taken into account
  • that deep plan, narrow frontages with solid floor plates should be questioned and future models of retail space be considered
  • that the effect on adjacent areas of the shrinking retail strip are planned and managed
  • the large frieze on the rear of Barkers Pool House by leading 20th century sculptor William Mitchell should be retained and moved to a more prominent position within the new scheme.
  • contemporary artists should be commissioned to produce public artwork within the new public spaces and on new buildings.

7.         Retention of Historic Buildings, Street pattern, Conservation and Public Art

The retention of public buildings is an aspect of the scheme that has been universally welcomed. The new Fargate puts Leah’s Yard at the centre of the scheme and the use of this space for food could work, and would bring a use to the courtyard space. The value of this space on the new Fargate should not however exclude consideration of other uses.

A cultural/creative/independent use for Leah’s Yard, or other historic buildings might bring richness and broader appeal to the scheme. The Bluecoats Gallery in Liverpool One is a good example of what a cultural use could bring to the retail quarter. The city could work with one of the many cultural organisations to look at the possibilities of this space.  Space for charities and third sector uses should be considered to ensure a vibrant mix of uses and access for a broad section of the population.

One of our supporters, Craig Broadwith made a key point that the heritage is about the townscape, not just the buildings. The new quarter is being designed around a major store and new retail street, Fargate rather than working with the historic street pattern. What results is a breakdown of the streets around the new department store (John Lewis) and poor connectivity behind it. Perhaps this is a necessary sacrifice to make the development work, however if so the effects on connectivity should be mitigated.

The wholesale destruction of what exists within the Sheffield Retail Quarter boundary to create several new streets, rather than working within existing street patterns presents a huge risk. This contrasts with the way improvements are being phased on The Moor which has the effect of mitigating the potential for blight. Conservation of historic street patterns would allow more retention of buildings and allow a more gradual renewal.

Recommendations:

  • the retention of the existing street pattern to achieve the same outcomes should be considered
  • that links up to the Devonshire Quarter from the new square and around the new John Lewis be reconsidered and improved
  • that arts and cultural uses should be considered in the mix at street level
  • that provision of space for charities and the third sector should be considered.

8.         Transport

There was enthusiasm for good pubic transport links and for sorting out the circulation of buses within the city core. Questions have been raised about the facilities for cyclists and for convenient cycle and car parking for short visits.

Pedestrians, cyclists and drivers navigating through traffic to the proposed retail quarter have not been fully considered. Consideration of pedestrians, cyclists is not clearly shown in the proposals. If the Sheffield Retail Quarter is successful this and all the other central car parks will fill up, as will the roads. Sheffield will suffer poorer air quality as a result.

The proposed car parking will be further from the retail core than present. With the closure of John Lewis, Grosvenor and Wellington Street and old Fire Station car parks, it should be demonstrated that the new levels and distribution of parking will not affect the economic performance of the wider city centre as well as the SRQ.

The scheme moves the centre of gravity of the city centre away from the tram network so tram users will also find the city centre shops less accessible. The removal of buses from Pinstone Street would also make city centre shops less accessible to bus users. A two directional bus service via Pinstone Street would make it easier to ‘step off’ and shop.

If major bus routes through Pinstone Street are to be removed, this could be an opportunity to reintroduce the ‘FreeBee’ bus service which uses smaller buses and could operate in a loop in and around the SRQ. Such a service could provide a link between the scheme and tram stops.

Recommendations:

  • the need for, and distribution of new car parking should be reviewed
  • a thoroughly modelled transport plan to meet future demands for air quality, exercise and public transport should be undertaken
  • that the designers fully consider how cyclists use the scheme and encourage cycling by making bike parking and routes, safe secure and convenient
  • that public transport stops (both bus and tram) be accessible and convenient, whilst keeping the new streets vehicle free

9.         Next…

The Sheffield Retail Quarter team has committed to a continuous process of consultation. The Trust is keen to respond in an active and positive way to this commitment. This document has been compiled from a passionate body of opinion, compiled from views expressed by SCT trustees and supporters.

We welcome this genuine initiative and have made definite recommendations on each area of considered. We see this as the first step in efforts to make this the best scheme for Sheffield and an example to the rest of the major UK cities.

We therefore ask for detailed consideration of our recommendations and clear and a comprehensive response.

This is Sheffield’s opportunity to be confident and create a liveable, forward looking city centre which has a strong identity and sense of place.

The Trustees, Sheffield Civic Trust. July 2015