Heart of the City in need of CPR
The loss of flagship store John Lewis from the city centre is a result of the carnage reaped by the failures of central government to deal effectively with the pandemic. Three hundred jobs will be lost from this closure alone.
And now the Council’s much vaunted Heart of the City project to regenerate the city centre looks to be fatally wounded.
Back in early 2019, Councillor Mazher Iqbal told the media: “Making the city centre successful isn’t just about shops,” he said. “We have some 66,000 people working in the city centre, and 30,000 already living here. That footfall will give retailers confidence, but it’s also about having the right mix of everything, from good quality office blocks and housing, to restaurants and retail, and public realm.”
That optimism now looks misplaced as the list of closures so far includes not just John Lewis but Debenhams, Thorntons, T J Hughes, Peacocks, Dorothy Perkins, Topman, Foot Locker and Carphone Warehouse to name just a few.
While all the blame for this cannot be laid at the door of the Council’s Labour leadership – the pandemic has changed everyone’s lives and aspirations – the economic folly of seeing retail as a core part of regenerating the city centre while consumers were moving online can be seen as mistaken.
The loss of two flagship names – John Lewis and Debenhams – leaves a gaping hole in the moves to make the Moor the beacon of hope for city centre life. The Moor and Fargate are now a monument to the downturn with every parade containing empty shops.
Without the shops to attract people – in what is likely to be one of the worst economic crises in living memory – the cinemas and restaurants that Councillor Iqbal talks about are going to struggle to survive.
So, hard as it might be, this is the time for drastic action. Heart of the City needs a complete rethink with a focus on encouraging a local economy that encourages younger, Sheffield based business start-ups and reinvests every penny back into the Sheffield economy.
But this is a lot to expect from the tired, out-of-date Labour leadership which seems stuck in the same time warp as a 1970s sitcom – Are You Being Served? A question the electorate will be asking when posting their votes in early May.
Whatever the outcome of the local elections, there will need to be some radical answers to the questions being posed by an economic recession which is cutting the heart out of the city. Perhaps the party’s membership needs to be listened to rather than subjected to the same old top down “we know best” rhetoric we get from the right.