A chance to get involved...

New plans for the first phase of the Sheffield Retail Quarter have just been announced and a four week consultation period will now run until August 9th. The first phase will focus on the site of the Grosvenor Hotel which is due to start being demolished within weeks.

We find it encouraging that the footprint of this first phase is respecting existing street lines, with some changes to the adjacent road layout in Charter Square, and there is a comment in the text that suggests movement towards this as a policy now. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in later phases.

There is a public drop-in session being held on Monday 25 July 2016 at 3.30pm-7:30pm at The Art House, 8 Backfields, Sheffield, S1 4HJ. Interestingly, this location is precisely the kind of infill architecture attached to quality older heritage assets that we advocate and think could be done far more in the coming regeneration projects.

Click below for more information about the councils plans, and if you can - be sure to go and have a look at The Art House on Monday



Using resilient networks to deliver

"If it was split down not only would you get a more diverse, more interesting city with more going on it is also deliverable immediately, people could start this straight away. It would be be a resilient network of developers delivering the project … if some of the developments didn’t go ahead , it wouldn’t mean the end of the whole project, the project would still go on."

Sam Atkinson, speaking on the Sheffield Live show Talking Sheffield on 23rd March. To see more of the talk show with Rupert Wood and Sam with presenter Nigel Slack watch here:




Call for retail quarter rethink...

"We think it is important for a city to cultivate a far stronger element of local stake-holding in such a core development, not only for the character of the city, but also for its long-term economic health."

One of the points we are making that is highlighted in an article in todays Sheffield Star

Read more: http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/new-plan-call-on-long-awaited-sheffield-retail-quarter-1-7803989#ixzz43FyBqONE


Spreading the Word...

We now have a Facebook page to develop a community of people both interested  - and, we hope - supportive of our aims. Please join us and and spread the word and invite your friends to like and share...

Find us at Sheffield: Towards Appropriate Redevelopment of the City Centre. It's a clunky title, we know. But we are not looking to sound like a strident anti-development group, more to explore different options working towards a solution that we think would suit Sheffield better.

From our opening post:   

We are here to generate greater public awareness and debate about the proposed redevelopment of Sheffield city centre for a "new retail quarter". The project raises concerns at many levels, including heritage, design and ownership; indeed, its purpose: why is it needed, who is it for? If carried out it will determine the character of Sheffield for ever. There are different options. There is still time to explore them, promote them, and create change... 

But first, the background: most people agree that there is a widespread desire to see development and renewal in parts of the city centre and the Council have put together a comprehensive scheme to answer this. It envisages the demolition of the John Lewis building and most of Cambridge Street and the retention only of facades on the older buildings along much of Pinstone Street. Replacement buildings are on a large scale and mostly for retail (including restaurants), with some provision of apartments and offices. At the lower end of the area the Grosvenor Hotel is planned to be replaced with a landmark office building, which is hoped to attract a major international corporate tenant.

These plans are far advanced and SCC are now engaged in some tricky negotiations with possible developers - and occupants. To realise their concept they have brought in outside consultants and retail experts to tell them how to do it, and have always had the policy to go for a single top-down solution: very large retail units clustered into a critical mass around a couple of anchor points, all as part of one scheme, owned and run accordingly - one developer, one operator. It is ambitious, and the Council believe that it can only be delivered in a single, instant fix. They are hoping to have phase 1 completed by 2019, the rest by 2021. 

To date the public have been given the opportunity to view and express opinions on the plans, in a short consultation in June this year, but remarkably few people have become engaged in discussion about it. 

It is not too late to become involved. To ask the questions: Who will own it? Will it really bring economic benefit? How might it work if instead of the “one-pot” solution the city adopted an alternative path, based on working with local architects, developers and business and community groups, using smaller scale finance in a plot-by plot approach? Might it be better to have numerous separate interests working towards the same much-desired goal of an improved city centre, than to have a single entity dominating our property horizon for foreseeable time?

We are setting up a new consultation process and getting many more people involved this time. We are looking at other options, to work towards a more attractive, sustainable, resilient and lived-in city: a real Sheffield.

This is a big subject and this page is not the place to go into all the possibilities. A website is being built to go into more detail.

Meanwhile please like and share this page; and post: have your say around this significant turning-point in Sheffield’s future...

It's complicated...

The following is the full text of a letter which has been published - slightly abridged - in The Sheffield Telegraph today:

To the Editor, Sheffield Telegraph

The news that the date when a developer for Sheffield’s new retail quarter will be confirmed has been delayed by six months, and the earlier announcement that the council have earmarked £450,000 for specialist legal advice connected with negotiations over a single letting in the scheme, highlight the immense complexity of such projects.

Redevelopment of 7 hectares of established (and partly run-down or previously cleared) urban fabric to make way for a clean, easy to read and “permeable” shopping precinct of the type so beloved of retailers, can only be achieved by tying the city up in contractual knots for which future generations will not thank ours. It would be better to retain complexity on the ground with numerous separate interests working towards the same much-desired goal of an improved city centre, than to have a single entity dominating our property horizon for foreseeable time.

If consultations are proving tricky at this stage, it must follow that the Council will have to give ground on various points. The scheme already embodies a considerable loss of heritage and control in the centre; what further changes will be wrung out of the council to accommodate developers’ own agendas?

It is perhaps time to consider what a plan B could look like. An alternative based on working with local architects, developers and business and community groups, using smaller scale finance in a plot-by plot approach could lead quite quickly to a bright, attractive and distinctive centre. It would aim to be varied in character, with much more residential provision but still with a significant gain in shop space which could offset the demand for more mid-market and premium retail offers.

This has not been explored as a possible development strategy because since the mid-nineties the policy has been to pursue an imposed idea of very large retail units clustered into a critical mass around a couple of anchor points, all as part of a single scheme, owned and operated accordingly. It is is worrying to think how that might translate if (when) there is is a significant retail downturn in the future. There is the spectre of enormous, unadaptable empty spaces fronting designer squares that have no other function than to be the setting for those spaces.

The instant solution also requires instant finance from a single, external source and this will perpetuate an unhealthy relationship with "absentee landlords" that has often been cited as one of the reasons for Sheffield's relatively lowly status as a commercial centre. The flow of wealth is always outward, and this project looks set to be the same, the centre of Sheffield becoming another tradable asset for the international property markets. There would never again be the possibility of individual buildings and plots becoming locally owned, available to be used for locally originated purposes.

Such a plan B would appear to be a more chaotic and untidy solution at the outset, but it would be our own distinctive patchwork solution, a resilient centre that would be of greater long-term benefit for the people of this city, with retained wealth accumulating over time.

Rupert Wood
5, Laycock House
Cross Burgess Street
S1 4RH

Using CLT's to lock down asset values

Could a Community Land Trust (CLT) be used to preserve one of the buildings threatened by the proposed Sheffield Retail Quarter (SRQ), and thereby promote a new form of regeneration?

The background to this query is that as some of you may know, Sheffield Council have bought Laycock House as part of their proposed development of the area for the Sheffield Retail Quarter. The building, which forms the corner between Pinstone St. and Cross Burgess St., dates from 1896 and has been in continuous occupation since then, used exactly as it is now - 5 small maisonette houses atop 5 small shops. Those of you who have visited me in my house there, or others in the row, will know what a special place it is, and how well it works for the surrounding area for those houses and shops to be there, providing a sense of natural ownership and residential use for that prominent part of the city. Laycock House is a perfect example of the kind of building, in terms of scale and function, that should permeate the entire city centre.

In order to progress their development plan, the council have told all the householders and the shops that they will require vacant possession some time next spring. At this stage of course there are no concrete plans for what will take place there, but at the very least they will be seeking to retain the facades. After attending numerous presentations about the SRQ project, I believe that the council are very keen to take on board the drift of their consultation process that there should be a strong element of heritage protection in the scheme, and that the social grain of the area should be preserved and even enhanced where it can be. Laycock House is a great opportunity for them to show good faith in pursuing this.

As an initial response to the council’s request that we vacate, I have asked them to be open to the concept of leaving the building as it is, subject to some necessary refurbishment. I think it can be shown that it would stack up economically, and although we (the building’s current tenants) accept that we could not stay there during any major development that might take place in the area, we would propose that after the works it would be possible for us (or other tenants) to move back in. Having mooted this idea to council officers directly connected with the scheme and others more widely involved with city regeneration, I think there is reasonable hope that all parties could agree to work towards this. If those discussions are positive, the door may then be open to the setting up of a CLT to manage the process. For the council it would be a great way to achieve the balance they are trying to build in to the overall SRQ scheme, and although I and my fellow tenants (including Sapper), would be delighted to continue to live there in the future, the greater satisfaction would lie in knowing that a cherished site had been retained without suffering from the “retail upgrade”.

I have looked at the Community Land Trust website and it is very helpful. I think it could well be an excellent vehicle for us, the council and the local community, to achieve the acquisition and continued use of this building which would then become a community asset, and that taking it out of the commercial mix would not seriously detract from their proposition. For the community at large it would be a first local step towards using the tool of embedding long-term community interest into the fabric of city centres to break up the drift towards large scale corporate ownership, which has hitherto thwarted genuine regeneration.

I would love to hear what others have to say about this. There is of course some urgency - the council’s plan moves on apace. Please get back to me soon. Meanwhile please accept my thanks for reading this through.

Rupert Wood
5, Laycock House
Cross Burgess Street
S1 2HG

APG Works
16-20 Sidney Street
Sheffield, S1 4RH
Tel 07764 236695
email: rupert@apgworks.co.uk


July 31st, 2015