Sheffield Container Park: This shambolic project calls the city council into question - Opinion

Like any great tragedy, it’s hard to shake the feeling Sheffield’s Container Park was doomed from the start.
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In an open letter, the project’s operators implored Sheffield City Council not to give up on their investment and instead move it elsewhere. As well as that, they also scolded the “unbelievably negative press” for contributing to its demise.

I reject this framing. The Star’s reporting of the project was only ever a) announcing its inception, arrival and occupants; b) relaying the opinions of the public, who, sadly, have been largely cold on the boxes since the word ‘go’, and yet I believe we always fought to include someone with a compliment to pay; and c) plainly stating the scheme was overdue, over-budget, and woefully poorly planned.

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I say this as a reporter and Sheffield resident – I’m really glad they gave the containers a chance. It was something new. It was a stab at building a home for small businesses who couldn’t afford or didn't want bricks-and-mortar premises and offered them new routes into town. I loved the attempt at creating new public toilets when high streets have already lost so many.

Opinion: The Sheffield Container Park has been a shambolic project of poor planning and wasteful spending that calls the city council's talent into question.Opinion: The Sheffield Container Park has been a shambolic project of poor planning and wasteful spending that calls the city council's talent into question.
Opinion: The Sheffield Container Park has been a shambolic project of poor planning and wasteful spending that calls the city council's talent into question.

I fantasized, just a bit, that it was the precursor for a summertime equivalent of the Christmas Markets – an anchor for stalls, outdoor seating and an afternoon drink. I was even teased this on an afternoon during the World Cup when I saw dozens casually enjoying a match on the big TV while a contractor on a bench played the commentary through their radio for everyone to listen. It was an exciting, decent try at making a new city centre asset.

Now, I wonder – what was the point?

I visited the Container Park last week with a more critical eye than before. I see now I was too enthusiastic. How could anything that ended its life having doubled it’s budget to £550,000 look so cheap?

It's been four months. Litter gathers underneath, the plants on the walls look unloved and the empty units – such as the ill-fated ‘HIDE’ bar upstairs, the ‘Social Circle’ hub, and whatever was promised in the ‘Coming Soon’ box – sit lifeless and strewn with old papers.

Every corner of the container park is rusted and ugly. The floor is damp and warping after just four months. How can any project that ballooned to twice its budget end up looking so cheap?Every corner of the container park is rusted and ugly. The floor is damp and warping after just four months. How can any project that ballooned to twice its budget end up looking so cheap?
Every corner of the container park is rusted and ugly. The floor is damp and warping after just four months. How can any project that ballooned to twice its budget end up looking so cheap?
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To say nothing of that appalling generator. Despite digging up Fargate to connect the project to sewage works (and even that was a debacle, following a spat with Yorkshire Water), someone failed to arrange the correct power cables to hook it up to the mains. From the same local authority charging forward with the Clean Air Zone plan came the audacious decision to power the park ‘for now’ with a generator that drinks £20,000 of diesel a month, belching all day and night like an idling HGV.

Who will be held accountable for this shambles? Will anyone accept blame? A council statement on January 13 gave no justifications. Instead, executive director of operational services, Ajman Ali, shrugged that they were “disappointed it has not gone as we had hoped” but they had “learned several lessons”. Fantastic. They have now decided to dismantle it and the containers could be used as park toilets.

What colossal waste.

My household has paid approximately £2,700 in council tax in the 18 months I've lived in Sheffield. I seeth knowing that money, which could make all the difference in the world to me, my neighbours and so many others, can be thoughtlessly eaten by bloated projects on double their budget that can and will be scrapped with a “ho hum” attitude.

My contributions for 2022 wouldn't have even covered the fuel bill for a weekend.

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The chicken katsu curry I bought from Clapping Seoul was one of the best I've had in the city centre. Hot, crisp and just a bit spicy, perfect to fight the cold. The craft ale shop was closed, sadly. I bought a Christmas decoration as a present from the gift store in December. I wish the businesses of the Container Park every success and hope they have not lost out too harshly from this farce. Let’s see how much the council spends making white elephants into toilets.