J Robin Hughes
Towngate Road, Worrall, Sheffield, S35
The Council's plan to demolish the Athol Hotel continues their blinkered attitude to Sheffield's heritage. Its needless destruction exposes the hollowness of Julie Dore's boast that "The best global cities use their heritage and history to establish energetic, 21st century versions of themselves." In that case, Sheffield clearly has no aspiration to be one of the best global cities.
The Athol was the first building on the newly-created Pinstone Street. It is where the story of modern Sheffield begins. Uniquely in Sheffield, the entire run of buildings from Barker's Pool to Cambridge Street, all constructed in one 15-year project, survives intact. By demolishing the Athol, in defiance of their own policies, national guidance, and a legal duty to preserve and enhance heritage, the Council does irreversible damage to the whole street and makes a mockery of Conservation Area in which it stands.
The Star weighs in to this debate with a regrettably misleading headline: "Saving the old to bring in the new". Laycock House was kept even under the Hammerson plan, and like Leah's Yard has never been seriously under threat. The other two buildings are entirely demolished. Nothing is being "saved". Your suggestion that it would take a "billionaire philanthropist" to keep our rich past into the future is fanciful. Historic buildings promote economic growth, attract the very residents and businesses that we need, and define the identity of our city. To see conservation as sentimentally retaining the most loved individual buildings against the tide of progress is the narrowest of views.
Progress versus heritage is a totally false choice. An obsession with sweeping away the old to make way for the new is a futile cycle of destruction repeated endlessly and expensively. The Egg-box and Castle Square lasted less than thirty years. Pinstone Street has so far survived four times as long. Had we listened to the Hammerson arguments, everything from the Athol to the Pepperpot would now be gone, replaced by a large retail space of the kind the Council now considers out-of-date, vacant and awaiting the next big idea.
Meanwhile, historic buildings adapt to new uses, or go back to their old ones. Conversions of existing buildings to flats are now common in Sheffield city centre. Many are small developments in historic buildings. Heritage is an investment that has already been made, and pays dividends. It is also the story of us all, and Pinstone Street is a rare and irreplaceable first edition. The Council would tear out its first chapter to use for a shopping list.