Councillors have today made a decision on the future of the controversial Fargate container park in Sheffield which council leader Terry Fox described as “not our finest hour”.
During a meeting of Sheffield City Council’s Strategy and Resources Policy Committee it was decided by members that the containers would be kept under council control. Councillors were presented with four options which included the prospect of selling the containers to a third party.
Officers recommended to the committee that the best option going forward would be to move the containers into storage while alternative uses, including in local community groups, was explored. Today councillors accepted this proposal and heard assurance that the containers would be moved to a brownfield site and not a local park for the time being.
In a statement Cllr Terry Fox, Leader of Sheffield City Council and Chair of the Strategy and Resources Committee, said: “There is no question that the containers project has had its problems and I’m glad we have reached a decision which will see them put to good use for the benefit of the city and its fantastic communities.
“The money for the original containers project was secured entirely from government and council officers were right to secure this extra investment for Sheffield. Sadly, however, the containers project never fulfilled what was expected. The council now needs to learn lessons from this to ensure that similar mistakes aren’t made again, and the on-going Governance Review needs to investigate how the Committee System can facilitate better oversight for councillors.
“But this should never detract from our ambition to boost the local economy and draw down whatever investment we can from government. Going forward, I’m excited to hear the proposals and how the containers can be repurposed to support the critical and valuable work of community groups who bring so much to Sheffield and its residents.
“As the containers come to a close this week, I’d like to take the time to thank the brilliant businesses who, despite the setbacks, have stuck with the container project and highlighted the strength, determination and importance of independent businesses in this city. I wish them all the best for the future and hope to see their brands go on to achieve fantastic things.”
During Tuesday’s meeting, councillors were given assurances that the containers would not be moved to be stored in a park as had been feared by many local campaigners. They were also assured that work was being done with the remaining occupants of the container park to support the future of their businesses in the city.
Dore and Totley Cllr Martin Smith said: “For want of a better word they are the innocent party in all of this and we owe them an apology for the mess and it is good that we are going to be supporting them going forward.”
Further concerns were raised by Cllr Shaffaq Mohammed and Cllr Smith over the internal review of the project with Cllr Mohammed suggesting that an internal audit was “a bit like marking our own homework”. Council officers said that the committee should trust the robustness of any audit and Leader Terry Fox suggested that if there were any concerns following the audit they should be raised during the committee at the time.
Cllr Fox said: “It hasn’t been our finest hour and that is quite right to say. But I don’t want this to extinguish our appetite and ambition for this city and we have a massive project that has raised £20 million for that footfall on Fargate. Hurdles to get over, lessons to be learned but let’s crack on and make that Fargate what it should be.”