What a surprise – Sheffield City Council and Yorkshire Forward are planning to chip in £20 millions towards helping kick start the stalled £600 million ‘Sevenstone’ retail quarter in Sheffield City Centre. Don’t get me wrong – this area of the city centre could do with some redevelopment. Whether this project is right and whether it was timely is another matter and not one for discussion here, but throwing public funds in to the development at this time is in my opinion not a good move.
The developer, Hammersons, claim they can’t support it at this time. Now, I acknowledge that it’s been a hard time for property developers (mind you, the good times were brilliant for you guys, so don’t bitch and whine too much) but gentlemen, planning ahead and possibly losing money is all part of the game of free-market capitalism. Whether the improvement to Sheffield really needed a £600 million project that would further draw shoppers away from the existing suburban shopping areas like Ecclesall Road, etc. is another question. After all, Meadowhall showed the impact of an out of town shopping centre on city centre shops, so I guess this development will have the same effect on shopping areas outside the city centre, but what ho.
Hammersons develop these places to make money from. Look at their portfolio – some massive developments – places like Brent Cross, the Birmingham Bullring, prestige developments in Europe. All impacted by the recession, but that’s the game.
It appears that the developers of Sevenstones have concluded that a £20 millions input from public funds will kick start the compulsory purchase process that will in turn (somehow) facilitate further development. Hold on, if the £20 millions for CP can’t be found without going to the public purse, where the Devil is the remaining £580 million going to come from? I’m not a financial whizz kid, and would truly welcome someone coming to me and saying ‘This is why, it’s OK, there’s a logical reason…’
So…first of all, any property developers reading this….please tell me how this works.
Now, here’s where I put my tinfoil hat on and enter conspiracy theory territory. At the moment, that part of Sheffield is half demolished, half still (barely) operational. But as it stands it’s possible that the Council and property developers could, for example, put a much smaller amount of money in to the area and build a much less grand and less joined up development but that would be affordable in the current financial situation and re-activate retail activity in that area. This might well have to happen in 6 months time when existing CP orders run out and issues about land acquisition for the project can potentially become major stumbling blocks. Now…if the CP orders are all followed through and the land acquired, and existing properties demolished, it becomes much easier for the Council to turn around in a year’s time and say ‘Ooopps…we need MORE money, but we must rebuild this area, so…..’
Hammersons have put £60 millions in so far. The Council will be borrowing £10 millions of the £20 millions required to carry the project on.
Sheffield has some thriving out of town shopping areas despite the best efforts of current and previous Council administrations. I am proud to be associated with Hillsborough, and often visit places like Darnall on business. A fraction of the money being spent here could make a massive difference to local, community-based retail and other economic activity in this city. The shops that will be in the new development are not going to be small stores with local connections; they will be the usual suspects in terms of High Street homogenisation.
The public sector is once more bailing out large private sector concerns because ‘not to do so would be disatrous’. Sounds familiar? Think banks. Same argument, and I think we all know that the beneficiaries are unlikely to be the people of this city.