They have called on town hall chiefs to prove their commitment by appointing a cabinet member dedicated to protecting and making the most of Sheffield's heritage.
That is among a list of demands made in a withering attack launched by groups including Joined Up Heritage Sheffield, Castlegate Preservation Trust and Timewalk on the council’s current record.
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The broadside comes after the council abruptly cancelled a planned consultation on creating a new Castlegate conservation area, where Castle Market was situated, just weeks before a developer submitted a fresh bid to demolish the Old Coroner’s Court within the proposed protected zone.
A joint statement by heritage groups demands the council:
Works constructively with the owner of the Old Coroner's Court to identify a scheme that retains this special building
Commits to a timescale for consulting on and implementing the promised Castlegate conservation area
Restores transparency and accountability by fully and openly explaining the circumstances of the cancellation of the consultation
Re-affirms its commitment to a central role for heritage in the city's regeneration
Appoints a cabinet member unequivocally committed to and answerable for protecting and harnessing the historic environment.
The statement says campaigners fear the ‘demise’ of conservation areas within the city after the council announced they were coming under review.
“The chaos surrounding Castlegate, the failure to protect buildings such as the Old Coroner's Court, the self-granting of Heart of the City II which the council admits does harm to a conservation area, the premature departure of a heritage-aware chief planning officer, and the lack of any cabinet member with responsibility for or commitment to heritage all speak of utter confusion,” it reads.
“The complaint of the Old Coroner's Court's owner that alternative viable schemes were refused as too tall illustrates the muddle: planners recently approved a scheme of similar height only a few yards away.”
The statement says that while the council has made all the right noises about valuing Sheffield’s heritage, its words ‘do not appear to be underpinned by any real understanding of the urgent need to protect and exploit our dwindling stock of heritage assets, nor by any coherent approach to doing so’.
Councillor Mazher Iqbal, cabinet member for business and investment, earlier this month explained that the Castlegate conservation area consultation had been cancelled because he was ‘not happy with the work undertaken so far’.
He added that it is was important to ‘balance’ the interests of developers and conservation groups when drawing up the policy, and could not give a date when the consultation would begin.
Sheffield Council does have a ‘heritage champion’, Councillor Ian Saunders.
He praised Sheffield’s Heart of the City development, incorporating the Peace Gardens and Winter Gardens; its Cultural Industries Quarter, including the recently-expanded Site Gallery; and the neighbourhoods of Kelham and Neepsend as great examples of areas attracting investment thanks to their ‘complex and distinctive mix of historic and contemporary buildings and townscape’.
“In these areas there are plenty of cranes and the council has approved and supported contemporary developments delivering high-flying ‘new economy’ companies and innovative, more sustainable forms of urban living but it is still the distinctive character and heritage of these areas which often attracts both investment and people keen to live, work or have fun in them,” he added.
“These areas have also benefited from additional public funding from Heritage Lottery and other similar sources which has allowed landmark developments like Cornish Place, Butcher Works, Little Kelham and many others.
“Our challenge as a planning and regeneration authority is to balance these dynamic forces, combining protection of our distinctive local heritage and townscape with a creative, can-do approach which incentivises positive investment and development and based on partnership between the private, public and third sectors.”
The Star has contacted Sheffield Council for a response to the heritage groups’ statement.