John Lewis listed building status won’t be a bar to redevelopment, says heritage campaigner

A Sheffield heritage campaigner who backs listed building status for the Cole Brothers/John Lewis store in Sheffield city centre says it won’t be a bar to any redevelopment plans.
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Robin Hughes, who is a committee member of Hallamshire Historic Buildings and a trustee of Joined Up Heritage Sheffield, is also worried that Sheffield City Council Labour group’s decision to call on the Government to delay action on listed building status could adversely affect other city ambitions such as hosting Eurovision next year.

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He explained that it is an ‘urban myth’ that listed building status means the store couldn’t be demolished.

Robin Hughes, of Hallamshire Historic Buildings, in Barker's Pool where the John Lewis building is.Robin Hughes, of Hallamshire Historic Buildings, in Barker's Pool where the John Lewis building is.
Robin Hughes, of Hallamshire Historic Buildings, in Barker's Pool where the John Lewis building is.
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Also contrary to popular belief, he says that planning applications to redevelop listed buildings actually go through faster than others in Sheffield.

Robin said: “I think it’s a useful building and very important for the city. It represents a great opportunity.”

The decision by Historic England to say the building needs to have grade two listed status shows that it is of national significance, he said: “It’s helpful like an accolade, not a burden.”

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries followed the advice of Historic England to grant listed status because the 1963 building in Barker’s Pool is a ‘rare example of a post-war department store designed by a leading architects’ firm to an accomplished Modernist design using strict geometry and proportionality to create a statement building’.

Councillor Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of Sheffield Liberal Democrats, outside the John Lewis building in Barker's Pool, Sheffield.Councillor Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of Sheffield Liberal Democrats, outside the John Lewis building in Barker's Pool, Sheffield.
Councillor Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of Sheffield Liberal Democrats, outside the John Lewis building in Barker's Pool, Sheffield.
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The council took over the building, which John Lewis announced would close permanently in March 2021, because of its key position in the second phase of the Heart of the City plan.

Robin said that the estimated 16 developers showing interest knew that listing was a real possibility because the brochure advertising the opportunity stated that the council had applied for a Certificate of Immunity from Listing.

Therefore, listing wouldn’t put developers off as they would understand that the council made that application to clarify the position on listing one way or the other.

The application in turn prompted Historic England to look at the building and make its recommendation to the Government.

Councillor Terry Fox, leader of Sheffield CouncilCouncillor Terry Fox, leader of Sheffield Council
Councillor Terry Fox, leader of Sheffield Council
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Robin said: “The council initially welcomed the listing and embraced it, which is the wise thing to do. It is in the interest of the city in the long term.”

He criticised council leader Terry Fox’s decision to “turn on a sixpence” and urge a rethink by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Sheffield MPs Paul Blomfield and Clive Betts spoke out against it and the LibDem group on the city council declared it was ‘flabbergasted’ and demanded a review of the decision.

Robin added: “Embracing the situation is something to do even if you’re not happy with it.

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“The success will be Sheffield standing as a united front, saying ‘we know what we want and we know what we’re doing’.”

He said that a view of Sheffield as divided could affect funding bids to the culture department for the John Lewis project or others such as hosting Eurovision 2023 and could undermine developers’ confidence in the project as well.

“I really, really want us to host Eurovision – the DCMS is the sponsoring department. You don’t want to get up their nose right now,” he said.

“You’re talking really seriously national glory – now is not the time to show we’re not serious.”

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He added: “The DCMS is not going to say ‘we don’t want to invest in Sheffield’ but other cities have actually got their act together, they’re ready.

“They’ll say ‘come back to us when you’re ready’.”

Robin said that there are many myths surrounding listed buildings: “We keep on seeing statements that listing prevents most if not all change and it will be expensive and complicated.

“It very much doesn’t prevent demolition and we have lost listed buildings before. There are ways of achieving that.

“You can even get a very significant point of change, like at Park Hill, which is of a higher grade than Cole’s. That listing showed it was not only of national importance but European and international importance.

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“In the first phase it was possible to strip it back to the frame. That shows that fairly radical change is also possible.”

Robin pointed out that, because the then council leader Jan Wilson said there was £40 million for refurbishment for Park Hill when it got listed building status in 2005, Urban Splash was attracted to the project.

He argued it had the effect of Sheffield looking serious about what it was proposing, which brought in £146 million of investment from outside the city.

The project got started in just two years, although it was delayed by the 2008 financial crash, he said.

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He said that because John Lewis is already “a lovely open-plan building”, the space inside is flexible: “The decorative fixtures like doors and staircases are things you would want to keep because they are high-quality items.”

He compared it to Castle House on Angel Street, where much of the interior has been changed but the developers kept iconic features such as the famous spiral staircase.

It now houses the Kommune food hall and other businesses.

Robin said he is now hoping that the the special strategy and resources committee meeting called by the city council on Wednesday (August 24) to discuss John Lewis will come up with a clear vision for the future of the project.

The meeting will be open to the public to attend and ask questions. Find out more at democracy.sheffield.gov.uk – look for the meetings calendar.