Plans to demolish former Sheffield Coroner's Court withdrawn as developer hopes to 'work with community'

Campaigners have cautiously welcomed news that plans to demolish Sheffield's former Coroner's Court have been shelved but urged council bosses to impose legislation to preserve more of the city's historical buildings.

Coun Douglas Johnson at the former Sheffield Coroner's Court.
Coun Douglas Johnson at the former Sheffield Coroner's Court.

A decision was due to be made on a demolition notice application submitted by developer Firestone Developments by Monday but the council announced it had withdrawn the plans.

Historical building societies and councillors all said they were 'very pleased' to see the building saved but added they were concerned it might only be a temporary reprieve.

The former Sheffield Coroner's Court.

Coun Douglas Johnson, who objected to the proposals, said: "I am very pleased the Demolition Notice has been withdrawn and I hope we see some sensitive and appropriate designs coming forward in due course.

“I have had some positive conversations with the developer and I am pleased he is interested in the views of planning officers and local people with knowledge of the area. I have encouraged him to engage in pre-planning advice from officers.

“The Old Coroner’s Court is an attractive building with an interesting history that should not be lost. I would like to thank Sheffield’s heritage experts who have helped with their detailed knowledge of issues around conservation and the history of the building.

“However, whilst the developer has withdrawn the immediate threat, we are waiting to see how the Council responds to our request for an “Article 4 Direction” to protect the whole of the proposed Castlegate conservation area.”

Coun Jack Scott.

Coun Jack Scott, Sheffield Council's cabinet member for development and transport, said the council would continue to work with Firestone 'to discuss a better scheme that is more in keeping with our values as a city.'

He added: "We are seeing huge and very welcome development in this part of the city, which is a sign of great confidence in Sheffield as a whole. But the old Coroner’s Court is a special building and so it’s right that we examine any proposal to demolish it very carefully.

“Sheffield’s heritage is unique, and plays a key role in the future economic success of our city. Heritage should only be lost when there are overwhelming reasons to justify it.

"That hasn’t happened in this case yet. We had a number of concerns about this application, which we shared with the Developer. I’m pleased they’ve now taken our advice and are going to come back to discuss a better scheme that is more in keeping with our values as a city. We are looking forward to working with them on this.”

The Nursery Street building was built in 1913 by the first city architect FEP Edwards and included a court, mortuary, post-mortem rooms, viewing chapel, witnesses' waiting rooms and police accommodation.

Bomb damage during the Second World War led to a remodelling in the 1950s and youth court facilities were added to the site. It later became used as a business centre but is currently vacant.

Howard Greaves, chairman of the charity Hallamshire Historic Buildings, also said he would like to see an Article 4 Direction imposed on the wider Castlegate area.

He added: "The old Coroner's Court looks to be on stronger foundations at the minute, but with very little currently in place to stop other developers applying to demolish unlisted historic buildings in the increasingly desirable Castlegate area.

"There is no doubt that the Article 4 direction is still urgently needed to protect other significant buildings here and we therefore urge Sheffield City Council to implement it immediately."

Valerie Bayliss, chairperson of the South Yorkshire group of the Victorian Society, said: "We are happy up to a point - it's very good that the demolition notice has been withdrawn.

"I am glad the council is feeling optimistic but the fact is we are a long way from being certain that the building is safe. We are not out of the wood just yet because the developer retains the right to knock it down if he wants to because it's not a listed building and it's not in a conservation area.

"We are pleased that the developer has had second thoughts and we hope that we can have a constructive dialogue with him so we have a win,win situation."

George Johnson, of Firestone Developments, said:"Clearly there is a lot of opposition about knocking the building down rather than retaining it so, on reflection, I want to work with the public and if we can come up with a scheme that retains that building that's still workable from a developer's point of view, then let's do that.

"I think it's just about trying to come up with a scheme that works with everyone and update that building and make it look a bit nicer."

Mr Johnson said he was in 'no rush' to develop the site and added he had no definitive timescale for the scheme.

He said: "I have withdrawn the application so the building is now safe. I don't want to try and upset communities - I want to work with them and ultimately I want to invest and regenerate that area."