Next phase of Heart of the City 2 given go-ahead – but councillors say it was a difficult decision
The regeneration of Sheffield city centre has taken a major step forward after councillors approved the latest Heart of the City 2 plans – despite reservations about demolishing a historic building.
Councillors said it had been a difficult decision because they had to balance economic regeneration with the loss of the historic Athol Hotel – the meeting place for Sheffield Football Association and the venue where Sheffield Cricket Association and the Sheffield and District Football League were formed.
The planning board did approve the latest Block B and Block C phases of Heart of the City 2 but councillors Roger Davison, David Baker and Michelle Cook abstained from the vote and Coun Robert Murphy voted against.
Block B incorporates Laycock House, a late Victorian building on Pinstone Street which has survived completely intact. The striking red brick building has two storey shops and apartments with a row of prominent chimney stacks.
The apartments and shops within Laycock House will be sensitively renovated while a courtyard behind the building will be converted into a garden with a cafe. Four new shops and 52 apartments will be created across the seven floors above.
Block C sits between Pinstone Street, Cambridge Street and Charles Street, alongside the soon to be completed Block D, which is home to the new HSBC office.
Known as the Pepper Pot, the plans include five shops on the ground floor and premium office space on the seven floors above.
The site also includes the Athol Hotel, which will have to be demolished. Though built in a time of depression, the Athol Hotel was immediately successful and became a hub for the town’s sporting, political and social life.
Sheffield Football Association held celebratory dinners and meetings there from 1884, the Sheffield Cricket Association was formed there in July 1884, and the Sheffield and District Football League – one of the earliest leagues – was formed there in July 1889.
Conservationist Robin Hughes told the planning board: “A recent YouGov survey shows that 87 per cent of the public agree that finding new uses for historic buildings is better than demolishing them.“
This scheme favours the expensive option of replacement over more cost-effective reuse and fails to reap the significant and proven economic benefits of retaining the largest possible density of heritage assets.
“The Athol Hotel and its associated buildings are fully capable of residential use. There is a strong case for retention backed by expert advice, planning policy and law. There is no case for demolition.”
Planning officers said very little of the original interior remains intact and the layout is complex with many modern alterations which complicate its re-use.
Councillors said they were all struggling with a difficult decision.
Coun Roger Davison said: “We have to be careful about our history and we have to be certain if we are pulling down something with historic links to Sheffield. This city is not just about shopping, it’s also about our culture and history.”
Coun Peter Price said: “Heart of the City 2 is crucial to the future of Sheffield and it being a major city. It will bring residents into the city centre which is vital to footfall. The scheme is an important part of Sheffield’s regeneration and I am reluctant to stop this as it may damage Heart of the City 2.
“The Athol Hotel has been empty for 20 years at least and it does have a sporting heritage but maybe a plaque can explain that? I understand people’s fears but the future of the city centre is too important.”
Coun Michelle Cook didn’t believe a plaque would be enough: “The city centre has been redeveloped over the years and we know the fire need for economic regeneration but we have such few buildings of historic significance in the city centre.”
Coun Andrew Sangar said: “Pinstone Street is synonymous with the city centre and goes back to late Victorian times when Sheffield stopped being a town and became a city.
“When we started Heart of the City 20 years ago we always knew there was going to be a trade off. This is a good quality design and is very sympathetic.”
Coun Robert Murphy was against the scheme. He said: “These plans are a significant improvement and a massive step forward on previous plans but I am really concerned over the Athol Hotel and how it is embedded in the history of Sheffield.
“Sheffield should be as famous for its football as it’s steel and demolishing buildings like this is a real loss to the city.”
Separate to this, HLM Architects has won the design competition for the Block A phase which will provide ground floor shops, offices, a hotel and residential accommodation on Pinstone Street.