Letter: Loxley Valley is a hugely important heritage site

This letter sent to the Star was written by J Robin Hughes, Hallamshire Historic Buildings, (S35)

Thursday, 19th August 2021, 6:52 am
A planning inspector has refused to allow up to 300 homes to be built on the former Hepworth's site in the Loxley Valley

The decision by a planning inspector to uphold Sheffield City Council’s refusal of the Loxley Valley Township will be widely and rightly welcomed in the city. One of the jewels in our green crown has been given the recognition and protection that it deserves. This is a very sensitive site, and its landscape and ecology demand only the most sensitively-designed development.

But it is also a hugely important heritage site. Without the fast-flowing rivers and the ingenious ways in which they powered the industries that created the city’s reputation and fame, Sheffield as we know it today would not exist. The Loxley Valley’s waterpower was so important that it was rebuilt after the devastating 1864 flood. The Stannington Clay which outcrops there made Benjamin Huntsman’s crucibles, without which our global dominance in special steels and our unparalleled engineering excellence simply would not have happened. The products manufactured from the same clay that kept our vital steel industry alive in the Second World War could not have been made.

Yet the Star’s article does not even mention heritage. Neither does the Council’s press release. Despite arguments by Hallamshire Historic Buildings, Friends of Loxley Valley and CPRE Peak District and South Yorkshire, the planning inspector felt unable to give any weight to heritage, because the council had not considered heritage to be an issue. The potential for irreparable harm to a historic dam, destruction of a fine weir, an almost total disregard of mining remains, and a failure to identify seven out of nine nearby listed buildings were all overlooked. This is not to criticise council officers, who mounted a steadfast defence of our precious golden frame, worked tirelessly on the appeal, and were subjected to gruelling cross-examination by one of the country’s top QCs. It is simply that heritage does not appear to have been on the radar.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It was the developer, Patrick Properties, who, to their credit, eventually understood just how significant the site is, and how much its history means to the local community, who retain a rich store of memories of mining and manufacture. They have now approached local community groups, and everyone stands ready to work to realise the full potential of the site’s heritage. The waterwheels of the Loxley are, after all, of far more than local or regional importance, but international, according to a report for the Don Catchment Rivers Trust. The Sheffield Waterways Strategy describes Sheffield’s river valleys and their man-made infrastructure as a globally important place, worthy of UNESCO World Heritage status. Their story must be heard, too.

J Robin Hughes

Hallamshire Historic Buildings, (S35)