Charity warns about 'ongoing destruction of Sheffield's heritage'

A national charity has spoken out against what it calls the ‘ongoing destruction of Sheffield’s heritage’.

Monday, 22nd July 2019, 2:43 pm

SAVE Britain’s Heritage, which has fought to preserve some of the country's most important buildings, including Wentworth Woodhouse in Rotherham, warns Sheffield's planning supremos risk repeating the mistakes of ‘destructive’ post-war schemes which ‘disfigured’ city centres across the nation.

It is particularly concerned about the planned demolition of the Old Coroner's Court overlooking the River Don and the loss of Victorian buildings as part of the £500 million Heart of the City II scheme to transform the city centre.

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The Old Coroner's Court on Nursery Street

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In a letter to Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore, the charity’s conservation adviser Thomas Bender says: “SAVE Britain’s Heritage writes to you to express our strongest concerns about the ongoing destruction of Sheffield’s heritage.

“The loss of the Old Coroner’s Court and the demolition caused by the Heart of the City project will, in our view, lead to a serious deterioration of Sheffield’s character and attractiveness…

“Heritage is a finite resource. Once destroyed, historic buildings are lost forever and the identity and cohesion of a neighbourhood irrevocably damaged.”

Developers were given the go-ahead in April to demolish the Old Coroner's Court, on Nursery Street, near the Wicker, under what are known as permitted development rights.

The decision proved particularly controversial as the two-storey building, dating from 1913, fell within the proposed Castlegate conservation area, consultation over which was abruptly cancelled in February.

The charity argues the vacant property might have been saved had the council issued an ‘article 4' direction, making a full planning application necessary for demolition.

Heart of the City II, the long-awaited second phase of the scheme which brought Sheffield the Winter Garden, Millennium Gallery and Peace Gardens, would see news homes, hotels, shops, offices, restaurants and more built across a huge swathe of land stretching between Barker’s Pool and The Moor.

Some of the area’s most distinctive older buildings, like Laycock House on Pinstone Street, would be retained under plans approved earlier this year.

But other Victorian buildings – including, probably most controversially, the old Athol Hotel on the corner of Charles Street and Pinstone Street – would still be razed, and SAVE Britain’s Heritage claims the appeal of what remains would be diminished by the ‘overbearing’, ‘bland’ and ‘box-like’ buildings rising up to eight stories beside them.

In his letter, Mr Bender writes: “Heart of the City is a large and important scheme, reminiscent of often destructive post war schemes that redrew and often disfigured city centres across the country.

“lt is of singular importance that the lessons that grew out of such developments, hard learnt, are not now forgotten.”

Defending the council’s record at preserving the city's heritage, Councilor Bob Johnson, cabinet member for transport and development, said: “The Old Coroner’s Court is not statutorily listed or in a conservation area, as SAVE Britain’s Heritage acknowledges in its letter.

“We are committed to heritage and ensuring that Sheffield develops in a way which fits with the character of the city and is managed extremely sensitively. We want to work with all groups concerned about how we can form a joint vision for heritage.

“We have a proven record of success in restoring derelict buildings and intervening when we can to kick-start developments.

“In the last few years we have helped to develop the former post office headquarters as Sheffield Institute of Arts, Ebenezer Chapel as private houses and Jaywing as a private business.

“Our Heart Of The City II scheme has a Grade II-listed building right in its centre and we are encouraged by the proposals to bring it back to life. Similarly, we’re optimistic about the initial plans for the Old Town Hall.”