Letter: Impressions of the city

This letter sent to the Star was written by Tony Spillane, Norton, S8

Thursday, 17th June 2021, 6:48 am
The National Emergency Services Museum, housed in a former police and fire station on West Bar, after an extensive refurbishment of its exhibition spaces. The Sheffield Blitz exhibition seen here includes an original Anderson air raid shelter

After an absence of nearly a year and a half, we decided to pluck up courage and catch the bus into Sheffield city centre.

I had read in The Star of various changes going on, so I thought it would be great to put on a fresh pair of eyes, and re-appraise the city centre. Also, this time we would spend the day there, so we could explore a bit more than usual.

On arrival, first impressions were good. There was quite a bit of construction work going on, which gives optimism for the future. There seems to be an emphasis on the pedestrian, which I applaud, as it is people that need to access the facilities.

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Personally, I’d like to see Pinstone Street fully pedestrianised, it makes no sense to me that the Moor and Fargate are not properly integrated. I’m delighted to see that the new Raddison Blu hotel is retaining the original frontage, and not becoming yet another anonymous ‘glass box’.

We walked up Castlegate (there has surely got to be some good use for the old town hall building), and along the River Don waterfront. It is very pleasant, although a little bit hidden away, just like the lovely Victoria Quays.

Then we went into the National Emergency Services Museum, and what a gem that is! We enjoyed a coffee and cake there, and made a note to bring the grandkids along next time, so that they can get hands-on.

We noticed that there were quite a few ‘street cafes’ that were well patronised, helped by the sunny day, and more traffic free streets. We wandered back via Fargate, Barkers Pool, Peace Gardens, Millennium Gallery, etc.

Our conclusions were:-

1) There are a number of nice places and facilities in Sheffield city centre, but they tend to be a bit disjointed and hidden away.

2) Making more pedestrianisation has got to be the way forward, so that people can better enjoy the city centre.

3) We are personally very fortunate in having good mobility, and knowing our way around reasonably well. Sheffield does not cater very well for people with less mobility, or visitors who don’t know their way around.

4) It would be a nightmare in the rain.

Therefore, our suggestions are:

a) There needs to be an increasing amount of interlinked pedestrianisation in the city centre, especially connecting the city’s ‘key assets’.

b) There needs to be some form of assistance for getting around the city centre, and links to transport hubs (car parks, bus and rail station, key bus stops etc) both for able-bodied people and those needing assistance (see ideas below).

c) The city centre needs to be attractive whatever the weather.

There are a number of potential ways to address point b) above. There needs to be better signage, aimed at the pedestrian, and all along each route, not just at the beginning.

The simplest and quickest city centre travel assistance to introduce would be the talked-about FreeBee city centre bus. This would be a good first step, to sort out routes, timing, customer feedback, etc. Buses going over pedestrianisation is not a good long term solution, so one possibility is automatic driverless electric pods, as used in Heathrow Terminal Five. It is a bit like a press-button lift, but operating horizontally rather than vertically. Another possibility is horizontal ‘travellators’, like a flat escalator. I’ve seen these operating outdoors in Shanghai, so the technology is feasible.

Such systems could help people get around the Sheffield city centre whilst also improving pedestrianisation, reducing traffic air pollution and noise, assisting both mobile and less mobile people, making Sheffield’s city centre assets more accessible. And giving Sheffield a uniqueness to be proud of! Now we just need ideas to address the weather!