Last week the Planning Committee approved the demolition of a historic row of small independent shops on Devonshire Street despite 20,000 objections from the public.
This was the most objections ever received and they were not just by armchair “clictivists”. Individual comments were made by 600 people, 300 demonstrated outside the Town Hall and scores sat through the meeting or in an overflow room. There were well-argued speeches about the importance of the buildings to the character and vibrancy of Devonshire Green. How could the council ignore them?
Planning is a legal process with councillors obliged to follow national and local guidelines or risk an appeal.
Officers said that the buildings, dating from 1853 and including an original interior, did not have sufficient historic interest to be saved. There is a Devonshire Quarter Action Plan which promotes it as an area for independent shops, but in terms of local planning guidance it is weak and out of date. The recommendation to approve demolition was made “on balance” and objectors are considering a judicial review, so the battle is not over.
But there is a larger war to be fought. We need good, up-to-date, local planning guidance and we need councillors to abide by it.
At the same committee meeting, the bars in West One Plaza were given permission to open beyond 00.30 hours, despite guidance intended to protect residents in the same building, who bought their flats in good faith. Licensing policy should also be reviewed, so there is a better balance between the needs of residents and the “night – time economy”, for instance by declaring “saturation zones”. And we need better enforcement of existing conditions.
The City Centre Masterplan has been delayed while the council waits for Sheffield University to finalise its plan and for new investors for the stalled New Retail Quarter.
Meanwhile, conservation projects like the Old Town Hall, areas designated for digital and creative investment like the Cultural Industries Quarter, and home-grown small businesses are left in limbo.
When they hear that a director of Coda (the architects engaged by Primesite Development to advise on demolishing Rare & Racy and Syd & Mallory) sits on the influential Sustainable Development and Design Panel, no wonder they feel the council sides with big business rather than Sheffielders.