Sheffield’s Old Town Hall has been sold to a mystery buyer, it has emerged, just days after a petition was launched to save the historic building.
But campaigners say they have no plans to take down the petition, which has already been signed over 2,000 times, before they meet the new owner to find out more about his plans.
Councillor Mazher Iqbal, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for business and investment, let slip on radio that the nearly 200-year-old Grade II-listed building, which used to house the city’s courts but has been left to crumble since closing in 1996, had changed hands.
He said the council had been considering applying for a court order to force the previous owner, G1 London Properties, to make urgent repairs to the decaying building when news of the new owner came through.
“At the 13th hour somebody's come in, bought the place and has a really good vision to redevelop it, keeping its heritage as well, and for me that's another plus for Castlegate,” he told interviewer Gul Nawaz during BBC Radio Sheffield's Eastern Air show on Sunday.
“We've got somebody who's Sheffield based, loves the building, loves restoring.”
He continued: “I've got a meeting with him tomorrow (Monday) to look at how can the council support this individual in bringing this beautiful building back into use.”
The Friends of the Old Town Hall group said they only learned the following afternoon that Councillor Iqbal had let slip news of the sale, which has yet to be confirmed.
Valerie Bayliss, who chairs the group, said: “The news of a sale came out of the blue.
“We would welcome any new owner with a positive plan to bring the Old Town Hall back into use but we would obviously look for an appropriate treatment of the historic building.
“We would welcome an early discussion with the new owner to hear more about their plans and judge whether we might be able to offer any help.
“But we are aware of the magnitude of the task and don’t assume that the fact of a sale will automatically resolve all the building’s problems.
“We will be watching developments closely and will continue to press the council to be ready to step in, in support of us, if there’s no progress, so our petition, asking the council to commit to compulsory purchase if necessary, remains valid.”
The petition calls on Sheffield Council to step in ‘before it is too late’, by using compulsory purchase powers to force the owner to sell up.
Responding to a question from Nigel Slack at today’s full council meeting, Coun Iqbal said: “I’m very optimistic that we will have a solution for the Old Town Hall….
“Myself and councillor Jack Scott met with the owners and I’m quite sure it will meet requirements….
“We have meet with the landlord over the past two weeks and have been told those repairs to the roof will be made so hopefully there will be no more leaks….
“I’m very optimistic this building and the wider Castlegate are will have a fantastic future.”
The buyer’s identity is not known at this stage but it is understood they have other interests in the town, possibly including the old Cannon Hotel pub across the road from the Old Town Hall.
Sheffield Council has not commented on the sale but in a statement responding to the petition it said: “We are optimistic there is a private sector solution for the future of the Old Town Hall and while that is the case, there is no justification for a compulsory purchase order.”