'How has it come to this?' - call for rethink as 'mundane' apartment block looks set to replace historic Sheffield building

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An apartment block derided by critics as ‘mundane’ and ‘dull’ looks set to replace a historic Sheffield building.

Councillors are due to decide next Tuesday, October 8, whether to give the go-ahead for the seven-storey building on the site of the Old Coroner’s Court beside the River Don just outside the city centre.

Permission has already been granted for the demolition of the former court, which has no formal protection as it is neither listed nor within a conservation area, and planning officers at Sheffield Council have recommended that approval is given for 77 flats and a collection of small commercial units to be built in its place.

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The fate of the Old Coroner’s Court appeals to be sealed despite the council admitting its loss would be ‘regrettable’ and Firestone Developments having said it believes the 1913 building on Nursery Street could be saved should a taller building be allowed behind it to make such a scheme financially viable.

How the apartment block proposed to replace the Old Coroner's Court in Sheffield would look (pic: Firestone Developments)How the apartment block proposed to replace the Old Coroner's Court in Sheffield would look (pic: Firestone Developments)
How the apartment block proposed to replace the Old Coroner's Court in Sheffield would look (pic: Firestone Developments)
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Robin Hughes, however, who is among those campaigning to prevent the landmark’s loss, believes it may not be too late for a rethink.

In a letter to The Star, he writes: “We should review how we got ourselves into a position where a much-valued historic building is set to be demolished despite that fact that all parties - campaigners, councillors and even the developer himself - believe that it can be re-used and should be kept,” he says.

He goes on to say: “Perhaps the planning committee can persuade George Johnston, of Firestone, to defer his plans and give the council another chance to agree a sensible alternative scheme along the lines he has already proposed.

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The Old Coroner's Court in SheffieldThe Old Coroner's Court in Sheffield
The Old Coroner's Court in Sheffield

“Given that he has already delayed a year, I imagine he might be reluctant.

“Otherwise, the city's character will be further diminished by yet another avoidable demolition. Councillors have made many positive statements about heritage, but the Old Coroner's Court is silent witness to just how far they still have to go to make these meaningful.”

Plans approved in 2015 would have retained the facade of the property, which is praised in government guidelines on urban development as a ‘significant unlisted building’, but permission has expired.

Firestone told earlier this year how it had come up with a number of alternative schemes to retain the old court in its entirety, having withdrawn its initial demolition notice in the face of public opposition, but they were all rejected by council planning officers who claimed the enabling development would be too tall.

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That was despite a 12-storey tower on the same road getting the go-ahead in February this year, the same month plans for a new Castlegate conservation area which would encompass Nursery Street were controversially cancelled.

Frustrated by this failure to reach a compromise with council planners, Firestone submitted a second demolition notice.

The council said it was powerless to oppose the old court’s demolition, since the building was not protected, although it had rejected calls from campaigners to issue an article 4 direction which they said would require the developer to seek permission to raze the premises.

Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society, which opposes the demolition, has described the development which would replace it as ‘mundane’.

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Other objectors have condemned the planned building as ‘dull’, ‘ugly’ and ‘cheap-looking’, with one suggesting the council ‘should be ashamed to even consider this project’ and another branding it an ‘outrage’.

But, recommending the development for approval, the council’s planning department states that it would be a ‘positive addition’ and contribute to the area’s regeneration.

“The demolition of the Old Coroner’s Court building is regrettable but has already been established through a separate process,” it concludes.

“The scale, siting and quality of the proposal are considered to be acceptable and will sit comfortably in the context of new and proposed development.”