Sheffield Council still aims to open up the River Sheaf at the site that gave the city its name - after the Heritage Lottery Fund rejected a bid to help create a £1.35 million park.
An application was lodged earlier this year asking for £250,000 towards the ‘pocket park’ at the Sheaf Field between Castlegate and Exchange Street, where the old Castle Market stood.
Despite the setback talks are now under way with the Environment Agency, which has helped to pay for other green spaces.
The council views pocket parks as a way of reviving neglected land and attracting investment. A similar scheme at a former car park along the Porter Brook has just won a national award, and a planning application is about to be submitted for flats, workspaces and a café bar on the remaining land.
Simon Ogden, the council’s head of city regeneration, said there was ‘momentum and enthusiasm’ for the Sheaf Field project, adding: “We’re looking at a more compressed scheme.”
The £250,000 would have been used to draw up designs and carry out consultation, ahead of a further bid for £1.05m. The proposal - called ‘Putting the Sheaf back into Sheffield - involved taking the roof off an underground culvert and bringing the waterway back into the open, surrounded by grass, flowers, trees and seating.
A workshop was held last week with the parties involved in the regeneration of the wider Castlegate area, where ‘unanimous support’ was expressed. Mr Ogden said the HLF – which turned down a previous application in 2014 for money to excavate the ruined Sheffield Castle – was ‘highly oversubscribed’.
Just two years ago the Porter Brook Pocket Park, at the junction of Matilda Street and Sidney Street, was merely a temporary car park until the council teamed up with the Environment Agency to create a new open space, envisaged as part of a riverside walk stretching from the railway station to St Mary’s Gate.
The University Technical College is open next door, and the planning application is about to be submitted by developer CTP, the firm behind the £200m Heart of the City scheme.
Last week the Porter Brook park won the ‘contribution to the built environment’ prize at the 2016 Living Waterways Awards, given out by the Canal and River Trust.
Mr Ogden said visitors were still stumbling across the latest addition to Sheffield’s collection of pocket parks, following projects in the Devonshire Quarter, Nursery Street, Edward Street and Sheaf Valley Park above the railway station.
“Certainly every time I’ve been down there and it’s not been raining there have been people doing what we hoped – having picnics, kids paddling in the river, people meeting for lunch and a lot of children from the college using it at breaks or after school to socialise.”
The parks have been created through the council’s City Centre Breathing Spaces programme, using money contributed under planning rules by developers. The difference at Matilda Street – and on Nursery Street – is that the funding has been combined with the Environment Agency Local Levy, aimed at covering the cost of flood defences.
Mr Ogden said Sheffield’s rivers had been ‘abused’.
“They were used originally for water power, then for steelworking and waste disposal and finally built over and turned into sewers. That’s about as low as a river can get.”
A culvert was removed over a stretch of the brook hidden beneath the car park, and riverbed material was redistributed and stabilised using boulders and reclaimed wood. Habitats have been created for fish with help from the Trout in the Town organisation, walls made of gritstone slowly release rainwater into the brook and the park has been designed to flood in extreme weather.
Elsewhere in the city there is Love Square – a patch of land at the foot of Snig Hill spruced up with wildflowers and grasses by Sheffield University experts. A café housed in a shipping container is being set up at the spot, intended as a stopgap while the £250m West Bar Square offices project is brought to fruition.