03Policy priority 3: Ensure development in South Yorkshire supports growth in Sheffield’s city centre

  • Develop a strategy to level up the labour market of Sheffield’s city centre with other city centres’.

  • Build new dense, high-quality housing around existing transport links so that residents can get to Sheffield’s city centre quickly.

Sheffield’s city centre should be the hub of South Yorkshire’s economy. As the centre of the largest and most economically productive urban area under the metro mayor, it contains a concentration of highly paid, highly skilled jobs for residents of Sheffield and those living in nearby towns.

City centre living in Sheffield has dramatically increased since the millennium, largely due to an influx of students. The city centre population in Sheffield grew by 167 per cent between 2002 and 2017, compared to 53 and 18 per cent in the centres of Doncaster and Barnsley, respectively.

Despite these improvements, the Sheffield city centre labour market is falling behind other large city centres’. The number of jobs in Sheffield city centre actually fell by 2 per cent between 1998 and 2015, much as it did in the centres of Doncaster and Barnsley. In contrast, the number of jobs in the city centres of Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle grew by at least 25 per cent during that period.

The mayor needs a city centre catch-up strategy for Sheffield. This should aim to stimulate both the supply of and demand for jobs in the city centre, benefitting not just Sheffield but all of South Yorkshire.

On the supply side, there is not enough high-quality office space in Sheffield’s city centre. Only 40 percent of the commercial space within Sheffield’s city centre is office space, compared to 47 per cent in Liverpool, 54 per cent in Leeds and 58 per cent in Manchester. Sheffield’s office space appears to be of lower quality than that in these other core cities too.

One of the barriers appears to be that Sheffield has more industrial space in its city centre than other cities: 22 per cent of the total floorspace in Sheffield’s city centre is industrial, compared to the national average of 10 per cent. The recent creation of the ‘E’ commercial use class, merging office, retail, restaurant and other uses into a single use class, will make the city centre’s built environment more flexible and responsive. However, industrial use will not be merged into the ‘E’ class and redevelopment of those sites will need additional support.

On the demand side, there is not enough housing that is within easy reach of Sheffield’s city centre and hence not enough residents who want to work there. Recent Centre for Cities research has shown that just 21 per cent of the residents of South Yorkshire can access Sheffield city centre by public transport in 30 minutes or less.

The poor public transport accessibility is due in part to the relatively low number of residents who live along transport corridors close to railway and SuperTram stations. New housing developments should be built close to and densely around these transport corridors, such as in the areas just south of Donetsk Way in the suburb of Hackenthorpe. New “Boris borough” funding could be devoted to this, although it must be noted that the Government promised this money to Sheffield and not the SYMCA as part of its Levelling Up campaign.

The mayor’s powers in this area are limited, as planning power is in the hands of local planning authorities (and thus at the level of the local authority). He or she should, however, work with local authorities to explore the possibility of introducing local development orders (LDOs) for appropriate locations, and help local authorities examine how LDOs have been used elsewhere.

The mayor can also establish Mayoral Development Corporations (MDCs), whose purpose is to regenerate and develop specific tracts of land. Using the four that have already been established in the United Kingdom3 as examples, the SYMCA should examine whether MDCs would make sense near transport corridors in the region.


  • 3 Two MDCs have been established in London, one in Stockport in Greater Manchester, and one in the Tees Valley.