Heritage group set to re-launch campaign to save historic Sheffield shops

Heritage lovers say they are prepared to ‘do it all again’ and campaign to save a historic row of Sheffield shops - five years after raising a 20,000 signature petition and £15,000 for a judicial review.

By Business Editor David Walsh
Friday, 27th November 2020, 12:48 pm

Nick Roscoe, of Hallamshire Historic Buildings, said a chance to save the Rare and Racy block had arisen because, he claimed, no works had taken place within five years and permission to demolish it had lapsed.

‘All options remain open’ to fight for the building again, including launching another petition and crowdfunding appeal, he added.

But owners Primesite refute this, claiming planning permission was secured ‘in perpetuity’ after they made a ‘material start’ by performing groundworks to the rear of the building.

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Primesite has lodged a new planning application for a larger office building on the Rare and Racy plot.

The row, from 162-170 Devonshire Street, is believed to be Sheffield’s oldest surviving shops, built in around 1835, although they are not listed.

Five years after plans for shops and apartments were approved, Primesite has lodged a new planning application for a larger office building on the plot.

The original proposal sparked widespread protests and eventually led to court where campaigners sought a judicial review. It was denied, paving the way for the firm to carry out its plans.

But apart from the businesses moving out, including secondhand bookshop Rare and Racy, Mr Roscoe claims no work was carried out before the new application was lodged last month.

The row in 2015, when the shops were still occupied.

Therefore it shoud be be taken on its merits ‘of which there are none’.

He now wants Primesite to abandon its proposal and either preserve and convert the building into units for independent retailers, or sell it to someone who will.

He said: “Those buildings are special to a lot of people. That heritage can be preserved, they are brilliant, characterful buildings, not just for their architecture but also their story.

“The building is nearly 200 years old and they’ve been through so much already, including narrowly being bombed in the war.

Unexploded bomb and bomb damage, adjacent to Rare and Racy on Devonshire Street, 12 Dec 1940. Pic: Picture Sheffield (Sheffield Local Studies Library): s01323

“I just think it’s another day the office for Primesite. I think if we campaign again there comes a point where it’s not worth their trouble and they’ll give up. At this time, all options remain open."

Mr Roscoe also claimed there was more interest in heritage than five years ago and the new application might struggle to get past Sheffield City Council’s planning committee.

Councillors recently refused permission to demolish the Old Coroner’s Court, although this was overturned on appeal. And they refused plans to demolish historic Bennett Cottage in the Mayfield Valley and Ash House at 499 Loxley Road.

He added: “It shows heritage is really high on the list of people’s priorities. As ever, once it’s gone it’s gone.

Protests against demolition in 2015. Pic by Guy Atkinson.

"This area can be protected by recognising the heritage value these buildings have, as part of an important group uildings, which includes the Grade II listed Wharncliffe Fireclay Works and Showroom (the Within Reason shop today). The setting of this listed building will be harmed by this new office block and the area is designated an Area of Special Character.”

Adam Murry, managing director of Urbana Town Planning - on behalf of Primesite - insisted the legal requirements of the permission had been fulfilled by making a ‘material start’ on site, with groundworks to the rear of the building.

Legally, that secured the planning permission ‘in perpetuity’, a move confirmed by SCC, he claimed. And the owner could demolish the existing buildings at any time.

The new design was of ‘exceptional’ quality and could be a driving force behind the recovery of the city centre post-Covid.

He added: “While there are various planning and townscape designations that exist in relation to other buildings near to the site, this doesn’t mean the buildings should be preserved for heritage reasons.

“The lack of heritage value has already been settled by the previous application and the decisions of Sheffield City Council officers and councillors, Historic England, and Mr Justice Dove.

Nick Roscoe of Hallamshire Historic Buildings.

“A judicial review was sought against the previous decision, but the aforementioned judge refused to give permission for this to take place. It was correctly found that the claims made with respect to heritage issues were unarguable.

“The same applies now. We very strongly believe that the proposals are of a better - even exceptional - design quality.

“The scheme will bring high quality flexible use commercial accommodation – it is proposed as offices, and interest has been high. However, due to the proposed designation of the development it could alternatively be a shop, or a restaurant.

"We have seen Sheffield City Centre impacted heavily by Covid-19, and a key part of the driving force behind its recovery and the strength of the city centre in general must be to get more people living, working and spending their time and money here to help create a renewed sense of vitality and vibrancy.

“Within our planning application there is full justification for the proposals, which sets out that there are no valid planning reasons for permission to be refused.

“We fully understand that proposals such as this can evoke significant strength of feeling and debate, so of course, quite rightly, councillors will have the opportunity to vote on this democratically at planning committee.

“We are very confident in our case though, and look forward to ensuring a successful future for the site, as we truly believe that this scheme has a huge benefits and positivity to contribute to the area.”

The original Rare and Racy proposal sparked an impassioned protest that drew national attention. There were demonstrations outside the Town Hall, while Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker said it was a ‘global treasure’ that would be a ‘crime to destroy’, likening its loss to the legend that claims Britain will fall if ravens leave the Tower of London.

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