‘Developer free-for-all’ fears for historic Sheffield district
Fears of a ‘developer free-for-all’ in one of Sheffield’s most historic districts have been voiced after a consultation on its future was suddenly cancelled.
The Castlegate neighbourhood is where the remains of Sheffield Castle lay buried, and is home to the city’s decaying Grade II-listed Old Town Hall.
Sheffield Council had announced plans to make it a conservation area, giving it added protection against unsympathetic development which could harm its unique character.
A six-week consultation on the proposal was due to be launched last Thursday, with a two-day event at the Old Post Office in Fitzalan Square, but when people arrived they were greeted with a notice on the door saying it had been cancelled.
Conservation groups say no explanation has yet been given for the abrupt cancellation, and they are worried about what it means for the future of the area.
Hallamshire Historic Buildings, a lobby group set up to protect the city’s heritage, declared itself ‘gravely concerned’ about the cancellation.
“This latest u-turn can only increase the perception of Sheffield Council as a local authority that is at best confused about the role of its built heritage and at worst hostile to it,” it said in a statement on the group’s website.
The group said the success of the Kelham Island and Cultural Industries Quarter conservation areas showed the difference the designation could make by encouraging people to take pride in the heritage on their doorstep.
It claimed that while some buildings in Castlegate were protected due to their listed status, many other ‘fine’ unlisted buildings - including the Old Coroner’s Court on Nursery Street, which it had recently campaigned to save – were vulnerable.
“At present, any of these can be demolished at two weeks’ notice. A conservation area would ensure that changes are properly assessed through the planning process, making the most of the area's character and promoting sympathetic development on the many vacant sites,” the group said.
“Following the success of Kelham Island, the Castlegate area is now a prime target for developers. Given the role of heritage in Kelham Island's success, it would be incredibly short-sighted to believe a developer free-for-all is now appropriate for Castlegate. A statement from Sheffield Council explaining the decision to cancel the conservation area consultation is now urgently required.”
The council’s draft plan for Sheffield city centre, published last year, included a commitment to making the most of Castlegate’s heritage.
It said this would be ‘supported by the designation of a Castlegate Quarter Conservation Area which brings statutory protection and potential access to additional resources’ for the district’s most historically important buildings.
Valerie Bayliss, chairwoman of the Friends of Sheffield Old Town Hall campaign group, said she was very concerned that the consultation, for which she and others had been waiting for a long time, had been cancelled at such short notice.
“What on earth is the council up to? No reason for the cancellation appears to have been given. And it’s cancellation that has been mentioned, nor postponement,” she said.
“We deserve some communication and explanation. Has the council abandoned its plan for a conservation area? Is there some other reason for a delay, even though ‘cancellation’ has been mentioned?”
The council’s website, which states the consultation was due to run from February 21 to March 31, says ‘apologies, this consultation has been cancelled’, with no further information.
Councillor Mazher Iqbal, cabinet member for business and investment at Sheffield Council, said: “We are still planning on establishing a Castlegate conservation area but want to make sure we reflect the very latest developments that are happening in the area, such as the sale of the Old Town Hall and the much-anticipated findings from the archaeological dig at the Sheffield Castle site.”