Looking at Sheffield’s future
It is hard not to dwell on a sense of deja vu when looking back on our business forecast for 2017, written for this publication 12 months ago.
Among other things, we mused over the likely impact of Brexit, the positives of the proposed major Chinese investment in Sheffield, and somewhat tragically, the importance of the election for the first mayor of the Sheffield City Region.
Here we are today with the impact of Brexit still unknown, and we are left wondering if the Chinese investment will ever materialise. As far as devolution is concerned, we are still not able to forecast what will happen over the course of 2018.
We are left pondering if in the upcoming year we will indeed see whether that mysterious Chinese investment actually exists, or if the hype is merely whispers. It was as long ago as July 2016 when the council said it had struck a deal with a Chinese construction company that could lead to more than £1bn invested in Sheffield over the next 60 years.
Meanwhile the unseemly row over proposed devolution lingers on and doubts over the rival structure of whole-Yorkshire has already sunk a £5m jobs project in this region.
The project to help long-term unemployed in South Yorkshire was halted by the government because of the ongoing uncertainty. The Early Integrated Employment Support Pilot, developed as part of the 2015 Sheffield City Region devolution deal with the Government, included measures such as providing 18 months of one-on-one support for the unemployed to help get them back into work.
It was hailed by the government as evidence of its work supporting the disadvantaged and long-term jobseekers as one of six schemes nationwide benefitting from £28m in public funds.
A spokeswoman said: ““We remain committed to delivering this pilot scheme. However, in light of current uncertainty over the devolution of powers and new programmes to the Mayoral Combined Authority, the Department for Work and Pensions has told us that progress of the Early Intervention Employment Support Pilot has been paused.”
Furthermore, under the initial proposal, backed by the government, a mayor for the Sheffield City Region is currently due to be elected in May 2018, and given £900m over 30 years as well as handed power over transport budgets and strategic planning.
But problems and confusion arose when in August, the leaders of Doncaster and Barnsley signed up to the pan-Yorkshire proposal, initially backed by 17 of the 20 local authorities in Yorkshire.
Sheffield and Rotherham Councils have not given their support to the deal and the Government says it is not prepared to consider any proposal that cuts across the SCR deal.
Amid the economic and political uncertainty there are some positives we can expect from 2018.
With the demolition of the former Grosvenor House hotel in Sheffield the first phase of the long awaited £400m city centre development is well underway and its completion in early 2019.
The six-storey office block for HSBC, ground level shops and new public areas is taking shape although a planning application for the second phase of the retail quarter has yet to be submitted.
The council hopes the overall project - due to be completed by 2021 - will result in thousands of extra jobs and bring £300 million into the city centre annually.
The multi-million pound project at the junctions of Moore Street, Fitzwilliam Street and Thomas Street off The Moor is for a 850 bed flexible co-living and student accommodation scheme with associated shops and cafes. The landmark scheme, if approved, will be up to 15 storeys on the prominent "gateway" site into the City Centre.
Towards the railway station, Sheffield United’s co-owner Kevin McCabe’s property company will soon start work on a £12m office block. The Scarborough Group hopes to begin work on Vidrio early in the new year next to its recently completed block named Acero.
Scarborough Group also has ambitions to redevelop Sheffield bus station and turn it into an upmarket shopping centre with rising terraces that gently climb from Sheaf Street to Arundel Gate.
And who knows, 2018 maybe the year the city could boast one, or even two, football teams in the Premier League, a situation that would do wonders of the city’s reputation on a global scale.