Tuesday 20th March, saw the latest of the Sheffield Civic Trust public talks, with this one focusing on the future of the Castlegate area of Sheffield City Centre.

Over 70 people attended two illuminating and interesting presentations. The first from, Simon Ogden, Sheffield City Council’s Head of City Regeneration, on the latest progress of plans for the Castlegate area. The second was from Valerie Bayliss, of the Castlegate Preservation Trust and the Save Sheffield Old Town Hall campaign,  on the aspirations of the Castlegate Trust.

If you would like to see Simon’s presentation from the evening then please click HERE. Below are are summary of both presentations.

Harnessing the past for the future

Simon Ogden highlighted the draw of the Moor following the move of the market and other retail that had been located in the Castlegate area. Now the Castlegate area needs a new focus on what its function is. He rued the down-at-heel impression that visitors staying in hotels clustered there are currently experiencing.

 

He pointed to interesting elements of this area such as Victoria Quays Sheffield Canal Basin, so close, which as yet are still detached and segmented and by the old road layout, and which fail to fully attract the attention they deserve.

Not only is there potential to combine some cool canal heritage atmosphere with the sturdy Victorian and Edwardian heritage above the castle area, but also with proposals for the castle site. One exciting idea involves an elevated ramp above the castle site where people could watch archaeology happening. Current archaeological knowledge is largely reliant on the work of two amateur archaeologists working in the mid C20, Leslie Butcher and Albert Armstrong. The ambition is to undertake further archaeological investigations. You can find more details by clicking HERE.

There is  significant masonry under the ground of the castle site. Archaeological investigations will, in addition to adding knowledge, also tell us the story of Sheffield Castle, a narrative to engage both Sheffielders and visitors. 

Simon set out the aims of development for funding bids for the Castle site including:

  • Overcoming the failed Heritage Lottery Funding Bid for archaeological excavation, including a trench plan.
  • Uncovering the River Sheaf through the site and creation of a riverside  Pocket Park with improved River Stewardship.
  • Extending the Grey to Green Project along Castlegate and into the revamped Exchange Square area which can be reconfigured to work as event space. This is undergoing local consultation currently
  • Public involvement enhanced by ‘The Pier’ a raised viewing walkway over the site, to enable the public to view works from above. 

Of the wider Castlegate area Simon spoke of harnessing the past for the future and working with positive partnerships, such as the City Region Infrastructure Fund (SCRIF). Many of the old buildings are vacant or only occupied at ground floor level. These kinds of buildings could appeal to tech companies and creative industries who look for interesting office spaces. Certainly the plan is to bring new life to these old buildings as Sheffield Hallam University have done, making the old Post Office into the Sheffield Institute of Arts. And new life is under way with the conversion of the former toilets at Blonk St Bridge which will form the Two Rivers café; and Tamper cafés aim to create a Foodhall  in the area.  

The Old Town Hall

Valerie Bayliss’ talk was modulated and factual on a subject that is clearly close to her heart. It was all the more powerful for her measured delivery which remained in place even when she criticised the organisation of her fellow speaker, Sheffield City Council (SCC). Interested readers can go to the websites on the Old Town Hall: https://friendsofothsheffield.wordpress.com/ and  http://sheffieldoldtownhall.co.uk/

In brief, when the Courts, which had taken over the Old Town Hall when the current Town Hall was built to accommodate city government, Sheffield City Council sold it to central government.  In 1995 the Department for Environment sold it to G1 Properties. Since that time it has fallen into serious decay. Images of the building in various stages of dilapidation were shown, some from Urban Explorers since no one had legal access to the building. There is now serious water damage, floors have collapsed, walls have peeled. But these aren’t any walls and ceilings. These were once fine examples, as Valerie’s slides showed, of ornate architraves, intricate ironwork and wonderful oak panelling.

 

In 2007, when this Grade 2 listed building was placed into the UK’s top ten most endangered buildings, a group of seriously concerned citizens set up the Friends of the Old Town Hall. They have done a lot of work, working in partnership with Sheffield City Council, The Heritage Lottery Fund, the Architectural Heritage Fund, and local organisations.  

The task ahead is enormous. The cost of repair following a condition survey and viability assessment  is put at around £10 million. 

A reader may wonder why the council hasn’t used its Compulsory Purchase powers or emergency repairs notice. One might wonder how legislation hasn’t yet been amended by central government since this legislation requires that should a council be unsuccessful in  extracting corrective action from the delinquent owner(s), they must then themselves pay for the repairs themselves. Now  in 2018, after several years of this government’s budget pressures on local authorities, this is clearly not an option.

In recent weeks there was movement at the Old Town Hall. People unknown to the SCC arrived and entered the building, apparently to install further measures to secure the building. It is believed the owners have appointed an architect to look at the building for residential use which is surprising as the study commissioned by the Friends of the Old Town Hall found this not to be a viable option.

 

 

 

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