How space is being squeezed as Sheffield builds more and more high rise apartments

“The flats have everything at your fingertips - you can lift the toilet seat from one end of your bed and reach the kitchen from the other."

By Lucy Ashton, Local Democracy Reporter
Monday, 31st August 2020, 8:06 pm

Coun Douglas Johnson is describing just how small some of the flats planned for Sheffield city centre would be.

“This is for two people as the drawing shows a double bed but the flat isn’t even big enough for a student’s desk. We have been trying to work out how you would cope there. It should not be permitted for human habitation.”

Coun Johnson, and fellow Green Party councillors Ruth Mersereau and Martin Phipps, are objecting to proposals to convert grade 2 listed buildings on Garden Street into 19 studio apartments.

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Members of the planning board this week reluctantly approved almost 100 apartments on Stepney Street, off Cricket Inn Road, but were vocal about the small size of them. Picture: Chris Etchells

They say the proposed size of the flats is significantly below recommended guidelines which suggest 33 square metres for a studio and 47 sq.m for a one-bed flat.

One of the studios is only 19.5 sq.m and there are one-bed flats of only 26.3 sq.m, both almost half the recommended size in the guidelines.

It's not just this scheme which is causing concern for councillors.

Members of the planning board this week reluctantly approved almost 100 apartments on Stepney Street, off Cricket Inn Road, but were vocal about the small size of them.

Members of the planning board this week reluctantly approved almost 100 apartments on Stepney Street, off Cricket Inn Road, but were vocal about the small size of them. Picture: Chris Etchells

Several councillors said they were concerned, worried and disappointed. Coun Jack Clarkson told the meeting: “I am reluctant to support this because of the sizes. I wouldn’t like to think I was in lockdown in one of these flats.”

Planning officers say because there is currently no up to date Local Plan, the council has no guidelines for the size of apartments and can't enforce minimum space standards.

Redeveloping the city centre is a double edged sword. The council is keen to build on brownfield sites to protect green areas and new residents can revitalise the atmosphere and the economy.

But Coun Johnson believes along with the small size of some apartments, there are other negative impacts from so many tower blocks.

52-54 Garden Street, Sheffield. Picture: Chris Etchells

He believes the number of apartments is nudging 20,000 - possibly more if you stretch the city centre out to Kelham Island - but says the situation changes on a weekly basis.

"It's an ever changing number - there were planning applications for a total of 1,000 apartments announced in just one week, that's how quickly things are changing.

"We have far more people living in small spaces but there are also less green and outdoor spaces. That's important for people's physical activity and mental health but it's really being squeezed.

"Sheffield city centre has never particularly had good green space but it did have derelict brownfield sites which had a lot of wildlife, flowers and birds and even if people didn't use those sites, their homes would look out over them.

52-54 Garden Street, Sheffield.

"They would look out at the wildlife but also the views beyond. There's a big difference from looking over a derelict car park to having an 18-storey building of apartments opposite with a wall of windows. That's what people lose.

"There are also issues such as wind tunnels which can be quite unpleasant."

Recent plans to redevelop the former HSBC Griffin House offices on Tenter Street, to create a courtyard with public access, have been welcomed by Coun Johson.

"We need spaces for people to sit out but how permeable are some of these city centre developments? Some have courtyards and open space but they are gated. We need a balance where there is privacy for residents but an element of public amenity."

Coun Chris Rosling-Josephs sits on the council's planning committee and has often spoken out in favour of tall buildings.

He jokes he would like to see Sheffield's version of the world's tallest building, the 163-storey Burj Khalifa in Dubai, to be built in Shalesmoor.

Coun Douglas Johnson has welcomed more open courtyards, such as the one planned for the former HSBC Griffin House offices (Hadfield Cawkwell Davidson)

"In a modern city we need people living in it. We got to a situation in Sheffield where everybody moved out and at a certain time of the day it was dead until people came back in for a night out.

"If we are going to have a 24 hour, modern, European city then young people do need somewhere to live that caters for their needs and we need to build up because then we are not building out."

Coun Rosling-Josephs says good design is key. "We don't want hen boxes and some conversions have been poorly designed with bedrooms that have no windows and that's appalling.

"You can make a lot out of a small space but it can't be oppressive and you need to be able to look out on a vista. It needs to be inspiring not just a straight block.

"I know some people think they are monstrosities but if it looks good we should have them and match what is happening in Manchester.

"Do we get nosebleeds above a certain height in this city? I stayed at the top of a 20 storey building in Glasgow and the views were magnificent.

"We need landmark high rise living accommodation which has a mixed use. The quality has to be there and people will buy or rent them.

"The city needs landmark quality high rise developments. There's too much narrowness with some of the developers, we need mixed use buildings with hotels, apartments and offices so it's being used 24 hours a day."

Tall but tiny?

Sheffield's tallest tower - a 38 storey building - was approved by councillors in January.

A good 5m taller than its nearest rival, Bridgewater Place in Leeds, the development will have more than 1,200 rooms and will become a landmark on the skyline from its base at Rockingham Street.

The £100m scheme will also include a 17 storey block on Wellington Street and a 12 storey block on Trafalgar Street.

There will be 1,065 studios, 140 one bed flats and 25 two bed flats in ‘co-living’ accommodation, a relatively new concept where residents have a smaller than average private living space but large communal areas.

Once again, a number of councillors raised concerns at the planning meeting about the small size of the units - the studios will only be 18sqm.

Planners said there was some trade-off between the small units and the large amount of shared space which would include a gym, common room, cinema room, cafe, study rooms and dining rooms.

Andrew Southern, Chairman of developer Southern Grove, said: “These are serviced apartments for short-term let, and are intended to be used by parents and friends of students, and other visitors to the city, as a high-quality and affordable alternative to a hotel stay.

“The Workshops scheme is not a student accommodation scheme. So it’s true, you won’t find any student desks here. For that you would have to look next door to Steel City, the PBSA development that has been created by our student accommodation arm, Future Generation.

“The floor space of the units in The Workshops is entirely in keeping with other serviced apartment developments. The building is Grade II listed and much of the design of this scheme has flowed from the constraints that this has placed on us.

“We have to retain the staircases, we can’t knock down any walls and we must preserve the original windows. The planning approval to be decided shortly is actually for a more sensitive version of a proposal that Sheffield City Council has already approved, and which will reduce the number of units delivered from 21 to 19. We have gone to great lengths to protect this building and give Sheffield a new kind of visitor accommodation of which it can be proud.”

The planning board said it was concerned about the small size of apartments at Stepney Street (Cadenza Architectures)
The tower will front Rockingham Street with a 17 storey block on Wellington Street and a 12 storey block on Trafalgar Street in Sheffield city centre