On June 11th over 50 people came to our consultation event on the new Sheffield Retail Quarter plans. We heard presentations from architects and planners working on the scheme, and the Q&A session that followed covered a wide range of issues from public transport and cycling provision, public space in the new scheme, design quality, to the retention of older buildings and lots more. Read our tweets on our timeline @sheffcivictrust

The public consultation has now finished but Sheffield Civic Trust is currently finalising our formal response to the plans. There is still time to send us your comments about the Retail Quarter, especially if you were at our event and want to share any views. Please send us your views ASAP to info@sheffieldcivictrust.org.uk. We’ll then share our formal response on the blog and in our July newsletter.


Posted below are two individual submissions to the consultation from our members Matthew Conduit and Simon Chadwick who have sent us copies of their submissions. If you have made a submission to the consultation and would be happy for it to be shared more widely on our blog then please send it in to us. 

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I attended the launch of the revised retail quarter plans at the City hall, but have been away during the consultation events.  Therefore, please see some key comments below for consideration:

The essential element in extending Fargate, culminating in a new square at Charter Square etc. all makes sense.  But I do worry about how the quality and variedness of the architecture is managed, especially given the sheer volume of some of the blocks proposed. The ‘John Lewis’ / car park block is very scary in size and volume in particular.

I would be interested to know more about how the design of these new buildings is to procured. In the interests of ‘mix’, is there any intention to procure the overall scheme via various parcelled design packages, so varying design approaches to different elements and blocks, and the overall nature and quality of the street scene, is achieved?

I really do fear that a global approach to the whole scheme in design terms will lead to everything we have seen before in other cities (e.g. Liverpool, Leeds etc.).  Massive blocks with the usual ‘curtain’ wall treatment and changes in materials, levels and planes mimicking separate elements/buildings.  Without a mix of different design approaches, there is a danger of the scheme looking and feeling like one massive shopping centre development, rather than an extension to a mixed urban and vibrant street scene.

If I look at the 3D visuals in particular, all I see is where I’ve been before – not Sheffield. We deserve to strive to be something else.

The retail quarter represents a great opportunity for Sheffield to both engage a range of architects and designers, and reflect the strong and diverse cultural traditions and economy of the city. A mixed design procurement approach would also ensure that some smaller, less ‘corporate’ design studios have opportunities, and will hopefully help breath some variation and design integrity into the overall development.

Many thanks for your time and attention.

Regards

Matthew Conduit

Sheffield Civic Trust member and Heeley resident

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I know I speak for many City Centre residents when I say that we are very grateful to have been invited by Sheffield City Council to attend a presentation regarding the New Retail Quarter development hosted by Sheffield Civic Trust on Thursday 11th June, however, I write to stress my disappointment that the issue of design quality seems very far from the top of the agenda.

This development is vital for the future success and prosperity of the City, but it is also a great opportunity for Sheffield, not to go into competition with Meadowhall, not to go safe and to emulate Croyden, Guildford and the rest of the Westfield back catalogue, but to make a vibrant and innovative contribution to the culture and character of the unique City of Sheffield.

The masterplan is currently at the outline planning application stage, so naturally, we are not expecting a detailed design proposal, however, there were significant omissions in what was presented-

Generally speaking, there is some logic to the Leonard Design street pattern, however, the primary move of striking a vista directly from the top of Fargate to the new department store (John Lewis) in the centre of the masterplan does not seem to be supported by the model which illustrates that this view is not obtainable from this point.

The streets and spaces show an ambiguous hierarchy and the urban ‘agenda’ seems quite unclear. A greater analysis of these proposed places and spaces needs to be undertaken to establish quality. Equally, a rigorous precedent study should be executed to establish and test the design drivers of the scheme- (and not just reference to other Westfield projects)

The new city ‘square’ in the centre of the masterplan forms a forecourt to the new department store, and the key focal point of the new scheme but the scale, proportions and spacial logic of this proposal are not well illustrated. What is clear, however, is that this new space is regarded considerably more highly than the existing civic square at Barkers Pool. The proposed triangular block to the South of Barkers Pool presents a long, low facade to the City Hall, diminishing and eroding the civic scale of the space.

The City Hall is a building of exceptionally high quality and requires an appropriate, formal response to it. The YRM John Lewis store does do this to an extent, and any proposed replacement would need to execute this responsibility.

Sheffield is a place of vibrancy, energy and style. It has a unique, quirky character which is evident in its streets, squares and its architecture. The City deserves and demands design of the highest quality- not just in the design of the facades of the new buildings, but in the proportion and scale of new streets and public realm- the detail and materiality of hard and soft landscaping, lighting, paving and furniture.

Sheffield is extremely well represented annually at the RIBA Yorkshire Regional Awards. Sheffield Civic Trust has introduced the Sheffield Design Awards to recognise and to champion great design within the city. Sheffield has two excellent schools of Architecture and a proud Victorian and Modernist legacy. An architectural competition would attract an array of design talent, engender an aesthetic diversity, a freshness of approach and create great publicity for the project. It would also demonstrate that SCC is determined to put design quality at the top of the priority list.

Innovative, progressive, sustainable developers are used to architectural competitions and can appreciate the added value this method will bring. The overly commercial development partner, focused entirely on the ‘net lettable’ of a safe, secure design solution will bring mediocrity and blandness. Sheffield is not Guildford and it is not Croydon. Sheffield deserves far better than this.

Moreover, there is a tantalising opportunity here for the City Council to be more prescriptive about the density of the proposed city blocks. To envisage a new urban neighbourhood, creating an intricate network of high level garden spaces, covering the rooftops of the new retail blocks, and serving innovative new housing developments, allowing families, couples and single folk of all ages to inhabit the city centre as they once did. This would create the 24hr city that we all hope for- local shops and cafes serving a genuine urban village, giving life to our streets and cultivating a safe, comfortable environment through ‘natural surveillance’ and increased footfall.

The balance has to be right. If we focus too heavily on pandering to a development partner, we will end up with a bland, generic ‘anywheresville’ solution. We need to have room within this process to take a few risks, to demand innovative, progressive urban housing- dynamic, unique public spaces and a visionary development that will ensure the valuable character of Sheffield and its citizens is permitted to emanate. THIS is the USP of the project.

Once its built, its built. We owe it to Sheffield to get this right. DON’T condemn Sheffield to tired, commercial mediocrity for the sake of expediency. Lets do this properly. Put high quality design at the top of the agenda.

Regards

Simon Chadwick

City Centre resident and Trustee of Sheffield Civic Trust

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