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

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

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