Letter: We will lose even more historic buildings that give distinctive character to our city
This letter sent to the Star was written by J Robin Hughes, Towngate Road, Worrall, S35
The attempt by Sheffield City Council to decimate its planning department appears both cynical and reckless. Cynical, because planners could be seen as an easy target arousing little public sympathy. Your pet project not proceeding fast enough? Too many difficult questions about design quality, heritage impact, access or safety? Then get rid of the experts. But professional and knowledgeable planning officers are the lifeblood of development. Only they can ensure that what is built works in the long term to sustain growth, attract visitors and investors, and above all improve the lives of ordinary citizens. Too often, they are hamstrung by political decisions, such as the failure to adopt housing space standards, dithering over the creation of Conservation Areas, and of course the astonishing five-year delay to the Local Plan.
Reckless, because the negative consequences will be out of all proportion to any saving. Officers are already under extreme pressure to meet the standard eight-week deadline for deciding applications. This change can only result in less scrutiny and more decisions being made outside the city by unaccountable Planning Inspectors when developers appeal. Without urban design experts, we will miss the significant improvements which they often achieve to dull or insensitive schemes. Threatening conservation officers undermines the shaky credibility of the Council's claim to value heritage, and we will lose even more historic buildings that give distinctive character to our city. Sheffield's great success story has been our creation of world-class public realm that makes us the benchmark that other cities aspire to. Losing landscape architects really would be slaughtering the geese that regularly lay golden eggs.
As for the suggestion that we can do without specialists in access - which ensures the safety and comfort of everyone, regardless of mobility - and dangerous structures, the very idea that, as the reports from the Grenfell enquiry emerge, the Council even contemplates compromising on safety by reducing expertise in these critical areas beggars belief. Sheffield's own experience surely puts beyond question the need for sports venues to be properly inspected. As a heritage campaigner I am greatly disappointed at a move that will degrade and impoverish our historic character and sacrifice the economic and health advantages this brings, but as a concerned citizen I am appalled that the city might not only become more dull but also more dangerous.