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Sheffield: A city locked in a drawn-out retail battle

Undelivered city centre schemes and attempts to block out-of-town developments are hampering Sheffield’s regeneration, writes Laura Mark

Earlier this month British Land won a landmark public enquiry victory approving a contentious addition next to Meadowhall, the out-of-town mega-mall which the developer partly owns on the eastern fringes of Sheffield.

The decision, overturning an earlier refusal by Sheffield City Council, is a big blow for the council. The authority has been blaming the 139,355m2 retail complex for the exodus of shoppers from its declining city centre over the past 20 years.

So concerned was the city council about the proposals for a new Next store on neighbouring land at Meadowhall that it spent £31,000 fighting the plans and had even offered up an alternative city centre plot.

Potentially more worrying for the authority and its ongoing plans to revamp its centre, is the increasing likelihood that the preferred site for the High Speed 2 station on the route from London to Leeds will be Meadowhall.

Proposed HS2 route at Meadowhall

Proposed HS2 route at Meadowhall

Nick Johnson, visiting professor of property at Sheffield University and former Urban Splash director, says: ‘Sheffield’s plight is no different from any non-London city north of Watford – it has taken a right battering.

‘First ceding it’s ’70s stainless steel to the Far East, then losing its heart to the out-of-town American mall experience, now it is facing the ignominy of being ignored by the government’s new regional economic policy.’

Paul Zara, director at Conran and Partners, the architect behind St Paul’s Tower, the city’s tallest building, believes building a station miles from the centre would be a mistake. He says: ‘We’ve been sold HS2 on the understanding that it will stimulate regional cities. By delivering visitors straight to an out-of-town shopping centre, it’s hard to imagine this will be true for Sheffield.’

HS2 would fundamentally change the dynamics of the region

John Lee, director at Sheffield-headquartered Bond Bryan Architects, says: ‘HS2 would fundamentally change the dynamics of the region. It could result in the centre shifting out towards Meadowhall.’

Any ‘negative impact’ won’t happen soon, though. The Yorkshire branch of HS2’s Y-shaped route is not set to complete until 2032. The problem with the perceived retail imbalance and what to do with the city’s heart is more immediate for the ex-industrial powerhouse, which is trying to keep up with near neighbours like Leeds – and especially so now that Ikea has also submitted plans for a £60 million store next to Meadowhall.

Park Hill

Source: Sheffield City Architects Dept

Park Hill in the 1960s

A city once known for its progressive architectural culture, in the 1960s Sheffield was ahead of its rivals both in architecture and development. A young city architecture department was creating Modernist icons like the recently regenerated and Stirling Prize-shortlisted Park Hill housing estate. But, like many northern towns, this development stalled during the Thatcher era and since then Sheffield has been struggling to catch up.

In the past decade the city centre has undergone an overhaul, kicked off by the Peace Gardens and Pringle Richard Sharratt’s Millennium Galleries, followed by the Winter Gardens development. Its new public realm has been widely applauded.

But it still hasn’t shaken off the hangover of Meadowhall, which opened in 1990.

‘Meadowhall wrought a lot of damage on the city centre,’ admits Christopher Ash, director at Project Orange, which has built a number of schemes in Sheffield.

In an attempt to adapt to changing times, last month Sheffield City Council updated its masterplan for the centre. Still in consultation stage, the plan is set for approval in October 2013.

‘[The city centre] needs a step-change in its retail offer and a clear part of the council’s ambitions to achieve that are the delivery of the New Retail Quarter and regeneration of The Moor,’ says Paul Caulfield, head of planning at Sheffield City Council.

However, Nick Gillott director at Sheffield-based developer and contractor Finnegan, is not convinced. He believes the city is losing out to the major retail offerings of the other two Northern big-hitters.

He says: ‘The city centre won’t ever win the retail battle with Meadowhall. The council are kidding themselves slightly in this new plan. The ambition is greater than the reality. It needs more concentration.’

Retail within the city centre makes £830 million in turnover, while Meadowhall is responsible for more than £670 million, with the out-of-town shopping centre dominating the clothing sector.

Bond Bryan’s Lee agrees: ‘There seems to be a continual war between the centre and Meadowhall. [But] We don’t need a masterplan to tell people where to shop. The minute you try to control growth you risk damaging the success of the enterprise.

‘Central-area retail just hasn’t got going. The development agreement with Hammerson is long overdue. But the scheme is very interventionist. It requires a lot of demolition to even get started.’

The Hammerson scheme Lee speaks of is the Sevenstones development, a £600 million new retail quarter in the heart of Sheffield City Centre. The 80,000m² scheme involves the demolition and rebuilding of an area of the city centre more than half the size of Meadowhall between West Street and the Moor.

The stalling of the Sevenstones scheme has done more damage to investment in the city centre than the proposed expansion at Meadowhall

Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, says: ‘The stalling of the Sevenstones scheme has done more damage to investment in the city centre than the proposed expansion at Meadowhall.’

Originally announced in 2006, the scheme has been blighted by setbacks and delays, leaving many wondering whether it will ever get off the ground. The project has been on hold since 2009, and despite being due to complete back in 2011, it looks unlikely to start on site before 2015.

Ronald Rees, Sheffield City Council’s New Retail Quarter director, maintains that discussions about the scheme are ongoing. He adds: ‘The council is continuing to have serious negotiations with Hammerson over the delivery of the New Retail Quarter. I would imagine we should be able to conclude these by the end of July 2013. I cannot confirm a timetable until the negotiations are complete but, as far as the council is concerned, the sooner the better’.

But Wright calls for the development to get moving. He says: ‘We need to move ahead. If Hammersons aren’t willing to go-ahead and get started on the development, then we should find someone who is.’

Originally involving a raft of architects – AHMM, Foreign Office, Hawkins Brown, BDP, Pick Everard, Stiff + Trevillion, and ACME – central to the scheme is the relocation of John Lewis, which has long been at the heart of Sheffield’s retail offering, into a new flagship store designed by Stirling Prize-shortlisted O’Donnell + Tuomey.

BDP, the lead architect on the project historically, has been dropped and replaced by ACME. It remains unclear as to what will become of the scheme, and who of the original architects will be involved. After so many years waiting for the Sevenstones development to begin, it is hard to see how Sheffield city centre can compete with the other northern cities.

Stephen Marshall, architect director at BDP, says: ‘Sevenstone would have been a game-changer.’

He adds: ‘Schemes of this scale and complexity usually take at least a decade to come to fruition. Unfortunately, the recession has hit the city very hard and at a key stage in the project’s development. It is now vital that a scheme, which fundamentally reinvigorates the city’s retail offer, is brought forward.’

‘Sevenstones is a bad idea. It’s just more of the same old soulless city centre retail,’ warns David Cross, director at Sheffield-based CODA Architects.

Map showing retail areas under development in Sheffield city centre

Map showing retail areas under development in Sheffield city centre

One project which has got off the ground is the transformation of The Moor. Once one of Sheffield’s prime shopping destinations, this area of town suffered greatly from the retail pull of Meadowhall. It is now one of the major focuses of the council’s plans.

With investment from Scottish Widows, work has begun on regenerating the neglected retail space. Designed by Leslie Jones architects, work has started on a new market hall, inspired by the timber aesthetic of the city’s successful Winter Gardens. A further eight blocks of retail has been proposed along The Moor route, including a mix of new build and refurbishment.

But Marshall says: ‘The moves to regenerate the Moor are good, but will not be enough on their own and won’t make any difference to Meadowhall.’

He adds: ‘The reinvigoration and expansion of the retail offer within the city centre will be about offering an alternative shopping experience. It should all be about carefully configured, traditional shopping streets, combined with high-quality public realm, inviting shoppers to spend more time within the city.

‘The Peace Gardens already do this very successfully, in spite of there being very limited retail offer to support them.’

Sheffield Wednesday fan Simon Allford, of AHMM, offers another solution: ‘With retail now challenged by the growth of internet sales and having to reinvent itself as destination and leisure, Sheffield has a further chance to reverse the tide.

‘The future of Sheffield lies in the specialist craft-based industries, the two universities, rail connections and the development of the idea that you can live, work, learn and play in the middle of a fast-changing, well-connected regional city. The reinvigorated high street could host schools, health and leisure facilities and cool capsule retail units. Add in homes and places of entertainment – pubs still matter – and you have a thriving international community of students of life of all ages.’

Despite the concerns, there have been victories. Park Hill looks set to be another example of a successful regeneration scheme for Sheffield.

Shortlisted for the Stirling Prize, the scheme has regenerated one of the city’s icons and a symbol of its once progressive architectural culture.

It was a massive undertaking. The scheme has also been massively backed by public money. The Homes and Communities Agency invested £23 million into the estate’s regeneration. Speaking at an AJ100 breakfast, Homes and Communities Agency strategist Kevin McGeough said: ‘That £23 million represents the entire regeneration budget this year. At the beginning of 2011 we had £1.4 billion of commitments in regeneration compared with £23 million this year. That doesn’t mean it isn’t important; it just means we have to do it in a different way.’

Already 10 years down the line, just one phase of the housing scheme has been completed and it is uncertain when work on subsequent phases will get under way.

Park Hill is a project missing the last piece in the jigsaw to pull it together

Michael Sherdel, associate director of local architect HLM, comments: ‘Urban Splash has worked hard to reduce the stigma at Park Hill. It is a project missing the last piece in the jigsaw to pull it together. The city needs to see it completed.’

Most investment in the city currently comes from the universities, of which Sheffield has two. ‘It’s the universities which have money to spend on development in the city,’ says Sherdel.

RMJM's proposals for a new engineering building at Sheffield University which will see the demolition of the Grade II-listed Jessops hospital

RMJM’s proposals for a new engineering building at Sheffield University which will see the demolition of the Grade II-listed Jessops hospital

Despite their investment, this development has resulted in a number of the city’s buildings being demolished. Jessops Hospital is a notable example.

But both universities have now brought masterplanners on board. HLM has developed a masterplan for Sheffield Hallam while Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Grant Associates are working with Sheffield University.

Prue Chiles, lecturer at Sheffield School of Architecture believes ‘if implemented, the masterplan will improve the piecemeal feel of the city campus enormously’.

Philip Hollister, chairman at Finnegan, believes ‘most schemes that will get the go-ahead in the city are driven by the universities’.

But Cross believes the city centre should become about new homes. He says: ‘We should concentrate on bringing housing back to the centre. Forget retail and make it a place for people to live in.

‘There are many redundant industrial buildings. These could be regenerated, creating village-like communities.’

Further comment

David Rudlin, director, URBED

Sheffield was very badly hit when Meadowhall first opened - we were working on the Vital and Viable town centres report for the government at the time and the word was that the city centre lost a third of its turnover. Cities like Manchester learned a lot from this and was much more successful at countering the Trafford Centre. The public realm-led transformation of Sheffield since then has been fantastic and it is now as good as any large city in the UK. 

As you say Sheffield have invested a huge amount in the 7 Stones scheme and, if it happens, it will be go one better than Liverpool One. It is however difficult to see it happening in the near future. I’m not sure however that the alternative is a full rethink - keeping the retail scheme on the back burner until the market is ready doesn’t have an opportunity cost. The site is a redevelopment so its not going to be used for anything else and it’s not as if they are devoting any staff time to it. They can focus on expanding the university, the leisure offer and the office market at the same time. 

This in the end has been what has allowed them to recover from the initial hit of Meadowhall - making the city centre into a good place for all sorts of things to happen. 

Nick Johnson, visiting professor of property at Sheffield University and former Urban Splash director

Sheffield’s plight is no different from any non-London city north of Watford - it’s taken a right battering. First ceding it’s seventies stainless steel to the far east, then losing it’s heart to the out-of-town American mall experience, now it’s facing the ignomy of being ignored by the governments new regional economic policy dubbed HS2 - regeneration for the next generation. 

In spite of it being the the focus of the Luftwaffe’s ‘40’s ire, the corrupt 60’s mass housing movement, the ‘80’s shift to American models of ‘uptown’ and ‘downtown’ and the noughties penchent for public realm from the public purse, the city has been remarkably resilient. It’s cultural output is envious, from the post punk avant gardists Cabaret Voltaire to ABC, the Human League, Pulp, Le Jarve, the Arctic Monkeys and the prodigiously creative Warp Records, Sheffield’s latter day Factory.

It’s proud boast is that it’s a city made from steel and for a brief moment in the ‘00’s its own trajectory looked like the Arctic Monkeys own but all that was laid to rest in the tidal wave of debt that swallowed cities that were even more self assured. That put paid aspiration and the plug got pulled from the City Lofts St Pauls tower amongst others, as it had from the Nigel Coats pop museum a decade earlier.

Park Hill though, sat one of Sheffield’s seven hills, has watched over much of this waxing and waning and whilst still in some eyes sitting like a visible breath of halitosis, it seems to have the steely determination to live on. Nursed through the ravages of recession by the HCA’s helping hand, Sheffield Councils commitment, Urban Splash’s vision and the deeper pockets of Great Places it has pulled through, against all odds. At 1,000 homes and still only a third of the way through there’s still a lot to do….but its come this far, and many say the market is resurgent. The Arctic Monkeys probably best summed up Sheffield - Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.

Andrew Budd, director, HoughtonBudd Architects

As both a practicing architect and academic based in Sheffield between 2003 and 2008, I watched with a growing sense of personal unease as the city’s post war architectural legacy was at first systematically removed and then actively buried beneath the aspirations and ambitions of Sheffields’ urban re-imagining which was only to unravel due to the toxic combination of local politics and national economic policy.

When I first moved to Sheffield I was both fascinated and intrigued by its post war, post industrial urban and civic identity; this legacy and its stock of strong, modern buildings was in stark contrast to the south coast resort town in which I had grown up and its obvious civic pride and material self-confidence drew me to it. It now seems that this material character was not to last.

Like many post-industrial regional urban centres it decided to re-write its built history, removing those buildings and areas that did not fit into its re-imagining. Many will have seen this as a way of saying that they could compete, attract investment and take part in a future that inhabited the sunny uplands of the service economy but somehow something tangible was lost and that became evident in a building boom that went bust, with swathes of central Sheffield becoming denuded of both place and character.

Richard Motley, director, Cultural Industries Quarter Agency

Certainly Sheffield is having to face big challenges. An economy long dominated by and dependent on the public sector is taking time to rebalance, regrow and respond to the needs of the private sector. The long term regeneration of the city centre and the continuing investment by the city in upgrading and developing quality public realm signals Sheffield’s ambition and intent. The Heart of City has been an undoubted success as it now frames a distinctive cultural, place and civic offer,  the next step must be to the grow both core and key sectors by creating the conditions for people to develop their skills and for local SME’s both commercial and social enterprises to drive forward an inclusive and shared vision of the city. I believe the draft city centre masterplan 2013 needs to have a sharper focus on these key economic drivers, but does signal a continuing confidence in strong civic leadership and the value of creating quality places. However, it is not the clarion call to be a ‘Producer City’ of the sort which Bradford has recently announced, so Sheffield needs to find its own way to stimulate its makers, creators and traders. It has certainly created some of the conditions to succeed, it now needs to invest in its people across all neighbourhoods and communities so they have the ability to engage with the new economy.     

Roger Hawkins, partner, Hawkins\Brown

Unlike several UK cities, Sheffield still has a heart and has not suffered from aggressive over development in recent years. The Council needs to be congratulated for sticking to its guns and having a proactive Urban Design Review Panel. I’d like to see Hammerson complete Sevenstone, the New Retail Quarter and for The Moor to be sensitively refurbished. There are some great historic buildings in the city centre which could be transformed into residential use. The success of Park Hill has demonstrated that people want to live in the centre. Better cycle routes would enhance connectivity across the city and fundamentally any high speed rail link needs to be at the main station and not a parkway location at Meadowhall.

Seven recent projects in the city

National Centre for Popular Music

Centre for Popular Music by Branson Coates

Source: Tim Soar

Centre for Popular Music by Branson Coates

Architect Branson Coates
Completed 1998
Cost £7.9 million

Consisting of four giant stainless steel drums, this building provided Sheffield with a landmark. It is now used as the Student’s Union by Sheffield Hallam University.

Charles Street Car Park

Charles Street Car Park by Allies and Morrison

Charles Street Car Park by Allies and Morrison

Architect Allies & Morrison
Completed 2008
Cost £16 million

Known as the ‘Cheesegrater’ to the people of Sheffield, this RIBA Award-winning car park forms part of the St Paul’s masterplan.

Jessops West

Jessops West by Sauerbruch Hutton

Jessops West by Sauerbruch Hutton

Architect Sauerbruch Hutton
Completed 2009
Cost £21.2 million

This building houses the humanities department of Sheffield University. The building sweeps along the hillside with a facade that changes in colour.

Winter Gardens

Winter Gardens by Pringle Richards Sharratt Architects

Winter Gardens by Pringle Richards Sharratt Architects

Architect Pringle Richards Sharratt Architects
Completed 2002
Cost £5.5 million

This RIBA Award-winning indoor garden finished of the Heart of the City regeneration project, providing a link between the Peace Gardens and the Millennium Galleries.

St Paul’s Tower

St Paul's Tower by Conran and Partners

St Paul’s Tower by Conran and Partners

Architect Conran & Partners
Completed 2011
Cost £40 million

Sheffield’s tallest building stands 101m tall. Unusually Conran & Partners’ original designs intended for it to be 10 storeys lower but the council encouraged the practice to build higher so it would signpost the city centre for people arriving by train.

Park Hill Phase 1

ParkHill03_c_DanielHopkinson_12154

Source: Daniel Hopkinson

Park Hill Phase 1 by Hawkins\Brown and Studio Egret West

Architect Hawkins\Brown and Studio Egret West
Completed 2011
Cost £36.5 million

This Stirling Prize-shortlisted project has seen one of the city’s icons regenerated. The Grade II-listed building was originally designed by the Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn in 1961, but fell into disrepair during the 1980s.

Shoreham Street

Shoreham Street by Project Orange

Source: Jack Hobhouse

Shoreham Street by Project Orange

Architect Project Orange
Completed 2012
Cost £1.3 million

A mixed use scheme transforming a redundant Victorian industrial building at the edge of the city’s Cultural Industries Quarter into duplex workspace units.

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