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Opinion: A very good week for Sheffield

crowd at tramlines
crowd at tramlines

I write this column at the end of what has been a very good week for Sheffield.  Tramlines played to record crowds, and with a very safe, family feel.

The Invictus Games UK Trials held their first event of this kind in the city.
They embraced Sheffield but more importantly Sheffield embraced them.
From the military top brass to the volunteer steward the feedback was the same – Sheffield, the place and its people, are amazing.

Add to that we have confirmed that two major and brand new fashion retailers are coming to our city centre, and the much loved and independent Marmadukes will also be opening up a new and additional outlet.  The “High Street” may be challenged but Sheffield is showing the way forward.  Please therefore forgive me for following the lead offered by all this good news.

The great thing about the positive events of last week is that they are a result of a plan and one which this column has covered in the past.  That plan is simple and is based on the belief that the “High Street”, city centres and indeed cities – call it what you will – do not need to be fearful of dying in the face of the online world.
What they need to do is offer people lots of reasons for being there.  In the past all town and city centres have really only offered people one main reason for being there and that reason has been shopping.  That will no longer be good enough and those places that just try to hang on to what they’ve got, or just try to recreate what used to work, will really struggle and may well die.

In seeking to get this right we are playing for pretty high stakes.  Having a lively and thriving town or city centre is not a guarantee of success, but not having one will certainly make failure more likely.  So how do you get it right?

For a start, and in a period of fast-moving change, I always think it is a mistake to build fixed plans based on predictions.  The smart thing is to make sure that your plans – how you design your city centre – is flexible and adaptable.  What does this mean?  Well, just take roads and pavements.  To me it is surely obvious that in the future, people will still want to move in the spaces between buildings.

The only debate is whether they will be walking, cycling, driving a car, being driven in a robot controlled electric car, even on a motorised skateboard!  My point is that we need to recognise that there are endless possibilities and we should not design in things now that close down those possibilities.
That is why in our Heart of the City II scheme – it used to be the New Retail Quarter – we are restoring the old street pattern – proper buildings with good spaces between them.  The future will decide how exactly they are used.

We then need to give people lots of reasons for being in our town and city centres, only one of which is shopping.  Our plans are for these reasons to include living here, working here, having fun here, meeting friends here.
That is why you are seeing more and more homes being built – most of the cranes on the horizon are currently down to this - more and more high quality offices being built and occupied – HSBC is the best and most recent example – more and more events being here - the Invictus Trials being the very recent example – and more and more independent shops, bars and cafes sitting next to big corporate retailers.
Take a bow Monki, Weekday and Marmadukes (Google them if you want to check them out).

Weekday store in Leuven, Belgium.

The irony of all this is, and as we have just shown in Sheffield, that whilst the world obsesses about the decline in retail we have shown that if you get it right then the retailers will still come.   Don’t get me wrong, there are big challenges out there and we have to fight for everything that we want but get it right and you move up.  Don’t try, or try and hold on to the past, and the only way is down.

So, good news is great and Sheffield has just had one of many good weeks on that front.  Good news, though is even better when it is part of a plan.  That plan is working.