Congratulations to Rupert Wood and the Alternative Retail Quarter group for challenging the council’s blinkered approach that after 15 years has delivered only more empty space, soon to be increased by the hasty demolition of the Grosvenor House Hotel.
The ARQ group go to the heart of what is wrong with the current proposals: their monolithic scale and total dependence on a single external developer.
The council have learned nothing from the Hammerson experience, even using some of the same designers, who unsurprisingly came up with a similar approach.
Apart from minor tweaks, (fragments of two historic facades retained and a little more public space), it is much as before – a grandiose new street that requires large-scale demolition and creates rather than solves issues of access and gradients, with bland, overbearing blocks designed for chainstores but not for their customers.
The council could learn from the Victorians who were the last to develop the area, their errors as well as their successes.
Then, the local authority was an enabler, creating the infrastructure in which a mix of local and national entrepreneurs built quickly, confident that vacant plots would be filled by others.
In less time than we have been talking about the Retail Quarter, Pinstone Street was completed and lined by distinctive buildings of character.
And the mistake not to repeat?
Victorian councillors dreamed of wide, impressive thoroughfares, and created the long, straggling city centre that has plagued us since.
Today’s councillors want as their legacy a boulevard more befitting the approach to a royal palace, all the better to carry the cash away to distant boardrooms.
The moral: beware of grand visions, and focus on serving ordinary Sheffielders, whose money spent here or elsewhere spells the difference between success and failure.
J Robin Hughes
Towngate Road, Worrall, Sheffield, S35