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

Sheffield’s Old Town Hall would house a ‘souk’ marketplace with cafés, bars, shops and work spaces, under new plans to restore the crumbling landmark.

Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 09:28 am

Former cells at the historic Grade II-listed building in Castlegate, close to the city centre, would be converted into ‘pod’ hotel rooms and the old court house’s upper floors would be converted into apartments with access to communal roof terraces.

The proposals to breathe new life into the long-vacant premises on Waingate, dating back more than 200 years, are set out in a planning application submitted to Sheffield Council on behalf of the new owner Efekoro Omu, of Aestrom OTH.

Sheffield Old Town Hall

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Charles Dunn, associate at Urbana Town Planning, which drew up the plans, said: “We are delighted to have submitted this planning application on behalf of our client Aestrom OTH. 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 plan for the building is to create 12 high quality serviced apartments on the upper floors, with a boutique marketplace of characterful commercial spaces at the ground and lower ground floor, which could be used as cafés, bars, shops or work spaces. The former cells will be converted to create 12 pod hotel rooms, which, when open, will surely provide one of the most unique places to stay in the city centre.

“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.”

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

The planning application claims the work will restore the building, which was initially used as Sheffield’s civic headquarters but housed the city’s courts for most of its history and has been vacant since 1996, to its ‘former glory’ and ‘preserve and enhance its historic significance’.

It describes how the building has fallen into dereliction, with timbers rotting away in places and parts of the stonework covered with graffiti, and its future is at risk.

The Friends of the Old Town Hall had put together its own plans to revive the property, which was bought by G1 London Properties in 2004 for £650,000, before it emerged earlier this year that it had changed hands.

Land Registry documents showed at the time 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.

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

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.

The Old Town Hall was built in 1808 to replace the city’s first town hall and was expanded twice during the 19th century and again in the mid-20th century.

The friends group has yet to give its verdict on the plans, but they do meet one of its key criteria which was for there to be some public access to the building.

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