How Castlegate in Sheffield is about to rise again

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A bright, modern future for Sheffield city centre's most historic district is beginning to crystallise, thinks the council director who is now fully in charge of the area's revival.

Simon Ogden, previously head of city regeneration with decades of experience on big schemes, has been appointed programme director for Castlegate, concentrating on a plan to give the area a completely different feel and purpose in the years to come.

Simon Ogden, programme director for Castlegate, above the old market site. Picture: Dean Atkins

Simon Ogden, programme director for Castlegate, above the old market site. Picture: Dean Atkins

Digs will happen to discover further remains of the medieval Sheffield Castle, the River Sheaf is to be uncovered nearby to create a park where the demolished market hall stood, new uses are being found for important buildings and roads will be brightened up with greenery to form a more attractive link with the overlooked waterfront at Victoria Quays.

The idea of putting up a Great Pier - a long walkway made from wood and scaffolding, designed by Sheffield University students - across the vacant market site for visitors to watch archaeologists at work is also gathering real momentum after the project was granted planning permission.

"We're talking to some interested parties who may be able to help us," Simon says.

Castlegate, he explains, is about to go 'back to the future'. He is pointing out the key sites, armed with a folder full of detailed maps and drawings.

A view of the old market site where Sheffield Castle once stood. Picture: Dean Atkins

A view of the old market site where Sheffield Castle once stood. Picture: Dean Atkins

"On the one hand we're trying to bring out the history, which most people are not aware of at all, but at the same time we see this area as a place where the jobs and economy of the future can find a home. It's not reliant on one big project or developer; it's going to be the work of many hands. And there's such a lot of space - both land and also empty, or very usable, buildings."

Small start-ups are the targets, with Yorkshire Artspace's Exchange Place Studios emerging as the 'proof of concept'. The complex, home to about 80 artists and makers, was originally a warehouse for WH Smith, then became transport offices before the council bought it back and leased it. Arts Council money has since been secured for a refurbishment.

"They've had absolutely no trouble filling it. This area appeals to creative and young, entrepreneurial people. A lot of what we're doing is trying to stimulate and allow space for that kind of thing to happen without doing it in a way that's really top-heavy with costs."

The two floors of 'galleries' along Exchange Street, leading to the spot where Waingate meets Castlegate, also give a flavour of the new approach. The walkways and 1960s shopfronts were once connected to Castle Market by bridges, but were cut off when stalls relocated to The Moor.

"The gallery goes all the way up to King Street. It's a little remnant of the streets in the sky."

The entire block is held by a London property firm called Threadneedle that owns the building where Wilko trades too. A deal was struck with CADS, which runs a network of local workspaces - Delicious Clam recording studios, the Bal Fashions café bar and cultural enterprise Rite Trax have all moved in and other units are under offer.

"We identified a diminishing supply of space, particularly for the music business - the kind of people that used old cutlery factories for rehearsal studios, going back to Cabaret Voltaire and the Human League."

Simon indicates the empty upper floors of the shops along Haymarket. "Virtually everything is up for grabs. There are some great examples of architecture from the last 150 years."

Regeneration company U+I is turning Castle House, the former Co-op department store, into a £3 million hub for digital businesses, and the council will be putting the Market Tavern pub up for sale soon. Talks are being held about 'interesting' occupiers for imposing Canada House on Commercial Street, and the floor above B&M Bargains. It is understood the Grade II-listed Old Town Hall could become apartments.

About 30 per cent of the land in Castlegate is owned by the authority, the biggest patch it controls outside of the land needed for Heart of the City II between Pinstone Street, Wellington Street and The Moor. The two strategies share some similarities but the latter is 'within the context of some very big new buildings', says Simon. "This is much more about re-used buildings being at the forefront. It's in the same spirit, certainly."

Last July the council allocated £786,000 from the Government's new homes bonus towards the overall plan. This followed two years of work by the Castlegate Partnership, which also includes Sheffield's two universities, friends groups, hoteliers, retailers and the Culture Consortium.

Sheffield Castle developed at the Sheaf Field, the site where the city earned its name. The River Sheaf travels through a concrete culvert that ran under the market and is in a state of disrepair - this will be removed in order to form a centrepiece for a new 'pocket park'. Funding bids are in via the Environment Agency.

"It's very much on the cards," says Simon. "If funding becomes available we could be doing it in 2018/19."

The pier will act as a focus for events and activities such as Castlegate Escapes, a summer street party happening in June. The archaeological dig starts at the beginning of July.

"There's still a huge amount we don't know, even things about how the moat worked. It was probably 10 or 15 feet higher than the river - it can't have just been a continuation of the river, it must have been pumped or drained from somewhere, or it may have been a dry moat. This is the kind of thing we hope to clarify with the first dig."

A consultation has just finished into the £6m second stage of the council's Grey to Green scheme. It will bring trees, plants and flowers to streets around Castlegate as well as pedestrianised zones, better cycle paths and other measures.

"We've got seven hotels down here. Victoria Quays is a setting waiting for the play to start. But it's not joined on sufficiently and therefore there's not been the footfall."

Simon's new role encompasses the whole of the quarter, extending to Snig Hill, Commercial Street, Park Square roundabout and the Wicker. The regeneration and property services teams are combining, to be headed up by Tammy Whitaker.

There's time for one last stop. At the Blonk Street bridge, where the River Sheaf culvert emerges into the Don, a 'little gem' is taking shape in the form of Two Rivers café, opening later this year in a disused public convenience. Chris French, who runs the Riverside in Hillsborough, is behind the venture, which will feature a small licensed bar and a balcony over the water.

"Things like that are always a good sign," observes Simon. "Bars and cafés tend to be ahead of the game."