'Really exciting' plans for indoor market at Sheffield's Old Town Hall welcomed

Plans to give Sheffield's crumbling Old Town Hall a new lease of life - with an indoor market, and hotel rooms in the former court cells - have been given a 'cautious welcome'.

Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 11:23 am
Updated Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 3:49 pm

The dilapidated former courthouse on Waingate, close to the city centre, would be converted into a mixture of apartments, hotel 'pods' and a 'souk' marketplace with cafés, bars, shops and work spaces, under plans submitted yesterday.

The Grade II-listed landmark dates back to 1808 but has fallen into disrepair since closing as a courthouse in 1996, and in 2007 the Victorian Society placed the building on its list of most at-risk buildings in the UK.

The long-awaited plans for its revival were lodged with Sheffield Council by Urbana Town Planning on behalf of new owner Efekoro Omu, of Aestrom OTH, who it emerged earlier this year had bought the premises from G1 London Properties.

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'Souk' plans revealed for Sheffield's Old Town Hall

Brian Holmshaw, of the Friends of Sheffield Old Town Hall, said: "What's being proposed is new and it's interesting. It's an idea which could give a real boost to the area," he said.

"We're giving it a bit of a welcome at the moment, as a friends group, but there are dozens of documents online with lots of details to look through.

"There's quite a lot of demolition mentioned and we need to see whether that's to the kind of flimsy 1950s dividing walls you have there or the substantial Victorian cornicing, which we don't want to lose.

One of the cell blocks at Sheffield's Old Town Hall, which would be converted into hotel 'pods' (pic: Urbana Town Planning)

"There's also talk of removing some of the interior fittings in the court rooms, which are part of the listing, and if any of the court rooms are due to be removed we would be on full alert.

"From what I've seen so far there aren't a lot of images showing how it would look. The marketplace sounds like a great idea but it's hard to visualise what it would look like.

"We need a really well thought out plan to save the Old Town Hall and come up with a sustainable use. Is this that plan? We don't know yet because we need to scrutinise all the details.

"We only have until September 12 to comment, unless there's an extension, which isn't very long. We'd encourage people to look at the design and access statement and have their say."

Court Room One at Sheffield's Old Town Hall, which would be converted into apartments (pic: Urbana Town Planning)

City ward councillor Douglas Johnson, of the Green Party, said: "It’s a building I’ve been concerned about for a long time as it has stood empty with a private owner. Only this week, we have seen the collapse and partial demolition of the 200-year-old National School in Heeley because of neglect, where we are left with calling for at least the façade to be protected. This is a real risk to Sheffield’s crumbling heritage.

"I am therefore very pleased the new owner of the Old Town Hall has submitted plans to develop it and I’d like to offer a cautious welcome. To me, the idea of a souk - or indoor market - in the basement is a really exciting prospect. It’s an excellent nod to the historic markets tradition of the Castlegate area.

"The development also fits in well with the Green Party’s preferred approach to the development of Castlegate. We would like to see a thriving centre that is open to small and independent businesses, acting as a counterpoint to the big chain stores the council has attracted to the Heart of the City retail scheme.

"The heritage aspects need to be scrutinised closely but the prospects look good."

Under the plans, 12 luxury apartments would be created on the upper floors, containing the old court rooms; the former cells would be converted into 12 'pod' hotel rooms; and the ground and lower ground floors would house a 'boutique' marketplace.

Charles Dunn, associate at Urbana Town Planning, said: “The Old Town Hall is one of Sheffield city centre’s most important heritage buildings and everyone involved in this project understands that we have a responsibility to take care of this much-loved asset and reverse its recent decline....

“The project will bring the building back into active use and secure its viable long-term future. The proposals will not alter the exterior architecture of this listed building, whilst the internal works have been sensitively designed to retain and restore many of the internal features.

“With Kommune opening recently, Grey to Green Phase 2 on site, and plans for the regeneration of the castle site, momentum for the rebirth of the Castlegate area is building. We see the proposals for this historic building as a key part of this.”

The building, which was initially used as Sheffield's civic headquarters before becoming home to the city's courts, has fallen into dereliction since becoming vacant more than two decades ago, with photos taken by the many 'urban explorers' to have ventured inside revealing the shocking extent of the damage.

The friends group had put together its own plans to revive the premises, which were bought by G1 London Properties in 2004 for £650,000, and launched a petition to save the building just days before news of its sale emerged.

Land Registry documents showed earlier this there was an ‘agreement for sale’ between Aestrom OTH and G1, which previously listed the premises for sale with a £2 million price tag, but it is not known whether the purchase has now been completed or is dependent on plans being approved.

The planning application states that any external alterations would be ‘minimal’, comprising largely of new signs, though the stonework would be repaired and steam cleaned to get the building looking its best again.

Inside, the vaulted ceilings, central corridor and even the original cell doors would be retained within the cell block, though cell walls would be opened up to create the en-suite hotel ‘pods’.

Some walls would be removed and added on the lower floors to create the ‘souk’, which at 918 square metres would be around the size of three-and-a-half tennis courts.

Benches would be ripped out of the court rooms to make space for the living quarters, but the plans state that it is recognised certain alterations are needed to enable the building’s refurbishment.

Should the go-ahead be given, the application states the work would be carried out in four phases, with urgent repairs to be made first and the ‘souk’ and cell ‘pods’ being created next.

The first apartments would be built during phase three, with the final phase consisting of work to the judges’ offices and court rooms.

The plans do not contain any artist’s impression or computer-generated image showing how the building could look, but there are numerous drawings detailing the proposed layout. The lengthy heritage statement also includes a fascinating collection of photos documenting the sad decline of the old court rooms and cells.

The building's restoration would be the latest in a series of exciting developments in the city’s Castlegate district, where Castle Market used to stand.

Kommune food hall opened earlier this year at Castle House on Angel Street, which used to house the Co-op department store; the National Videogame Museum moved there at the end of last year; and there are plans to regenerate the site of Sheffield Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was famously imprisoned.

To view the application, visit Sheffield Council’s planning portal and search for 19/03052/FUL.