Sheffield University pauses building projects amid spending review

An artist's impression of Sheffield University's planned social sciences building. Picture: HLM/UoS
An artist's impression of Sheffield University's planned social sciences building. Picture: HLM/UoS
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Sheffield University has paused major building projects amid a spending review - meaning work to build a flagship £45 million social sciences facility will not start for at least a year and plans to turn the city's old Henderson's Relish factory into a pub are on hold.

The university is rethinking its capital schemes in a bid to manage costs and boost income as the higher education sector faces an uncertain future.

How the Henderson's Relish pub would look. Picture: Hadfield Cawkwell Davidson/UoS

How the Henderson's Relish pub would look. Picture: Hadfield Cawkwell Davidson/UoS

Some projects - such as the £10m 'Heartspace' atrium at the Mappin Building, sprucing up the concourse underneath the Western Bank flyover and providing new all-weather pitches at Norton - are going ahead as planned, and Sheffield Council is considering proposals for the Royce Discovery Centre, a research hub on the main campus.

But construction on the social sciences building, which was expected to begin early this year, has been put back until some time in the next academic year, commencing this September.

The four-storey development, granted planning permission by the council last summer, is to be built on one of the university's full-size football pitches at the junction of Whitham Road and Northumberland Road, Broomhill. It will cater for the institution's biggest faculty, with room for 9,000 students taking courses in 13 departments from politics to architecture.

The delay will also affect work on a new sports centre to replace the existing Goodwin building on Northumberland Road, which will only begin once the social sciences facility is complete.

Meanwhile the Henderson's Relish pub, an idea drawn up after the university bought the condiment manufacturer's former factory on Leavygreave Road, has been shelved. Designs were produced and architects chosen, and bosses have promised to keep the site in a good condition until the plan is reactivated.

Universities across the country are being challenged on several fronts. A wide-ranging review of tuition fees is on the cards with the next scheduled increase in charges cancelled, a new regulator - the Office for Students - is charged with ensuring value for money, and there are doubts around student recruitment levels in the coming years.

In August Sheffield University said it had managed to avoid a drop in the proportion of EU students it was attracting for 2017/18 after the Brexit vote, but there were worries about a fall in the number of 18-year-olds generally, described as a 'demographic dip'. This created more spare places - and allowed some students to leave decisions on courses until the last minute.

The university is keen to adopt a sustainable approach to its spending. At a meeting late last year its executive board discussed deferring some projects 'by one year to keep within affordable limits'. "All forthcoming capital business cases would be viewed from the lens of prioritising expenditure on student-facing activities and/or projects which generate significant positive returns," a report said.

A university spokesman said: "Following an adjustment of timescales, we expect construction of our new world-class social sciences facility to begin in the next academic year.

"Significant progress continues on other areas of campus development. The engineering Heartspace development to the Grade II-listed Sir Frederick Mappin Building, including new teaching spaces at Mappin Street, is progressing well, with completion expected next winter.

"Our new cycle hub outside the students' union has just opened, and further work to improve public spaces around campus will start shortly on the concourse underneath Western Bank. Work on two new all-weather pitches at Norton Sports Centre is also under way."

He added: "The plans for the Hendersons' development are currently on hold as the university reviews its capital expenditure, but we have money allocated to ensure the building is secure and maintained until we can get the plans moving again."