'Sheffield council’s thinking on preservation of heritage is increasingly out of date and economically backward'

This letter to The Star is from J Robin Hughes, Worrall, Sheffield, S3

Wednesday, 20th March 2019, 6:05 am
Updated Friday, 22nd March 2019, 7:07 am

As expected, the council’s planning committee approved Blocks B and C of Heart of the City II, including the demolition of two historic buildings and the gutting of two more.

Credit is due to committee members for taking time to debate the matter, and I am grateful for the time they gave me to put an alternative view.

The council has had to acknowledge that the scheme will cause harm to the City Centre Conservation Area, contrary to their planning agent’s assertion that total loss of historic buildings does no harm at all.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

They have admitted that there was nothing to stop the Athol Hotel from being retained and reused, despite the design team’s claims, and they now celebrate its historic significance, when their marketing partner previously said it had none.

Councillors are even on record as proposing a commemorative plaque, which would be very welcome.

What became clear during the debate is that many councillors still see heritage and development as being in conflict, questioning whether we can afford to delay regeneration in order to save historic buildings.

The question should be what makes us think we can afford not to?

Deloitte’s recently reported that using the historic environment as an asset has been a cornerstone of the economic and social revival of our towns and cities.

Historic buildings increase both the concentration of firms and overall movement of businesses into an area.

Property prices in Conservation Areas are higher, but less so where heritage is “at risk”: damaging or diluting the heritage has a direct and irreversible economic penalty.

Reuse is almost invariably cheaper than replacement, and conversions to residential use are viable, hence the large number of such schemes in the city centre.

In fact, the council’s reluctance to make changes to its plans has been said to be because the viability of the new buildings is so marginal.

By clinging to the outdated notion of “heritage versus progress”, they have chosen greater expense and greater loss for less public benefit.

In their praise for Capital and Centric’s plans for re-using Sheffield’s historic Eye Witness and Ceylon Works, councillors agreed that they don’t make buildings like they used to and welcomed the preservation of heritage.

Where a private developer understands the economic, environmental and social value of historic buildings, the council’s thinking on the subject is increasingly out of date and economically backward.

Perhaps Capital and Centric can teach them a thing or two?