The buildings pictured above on Cambridge Street and around the corner on Wellington Street were, for the most part,  threatened with demolition just a few years ago.  Sheffield Council had even put in plans to demolish the Grade 2 listed Bethel Sunday school.

What was Sevenstone, then the New Retail Quarter is now Heart of the City II.  Ideas about inner city developments have had to change and lately there is a hope that more recognition can be given to the value that heritage assets can give to new developments.  The current proposals are some of the final pieces in the Heart of the City II jigsaw. We are delighted to say the proposals now are for virtually all that you see on Cambridge Street above, and all that you can see on Wellington Street below, to be retained.

Sheffield Council are inviting comments from the public on a scheme that invests in our heritage and avoids demolition of interesting and characterful buildings   The consultation closes on Tuesday 28th April.  Please spare a few minutes to register your thoughts. Our brief summary is below but please visit the Heart of the City 2 website, for more information and the form to submit your comments.  

The proposals are for the area bordered by upper Cambridge Street, Wellington Street and Carver Street. Two developments have been anounced: a modern office block (H2), pictured above in the background, and a more community focused block (H3), some of which you can make out in the sketch above, located behind the historic frontages of Wellington Steet and the row of buildings on Cambridge Street running up to the old Bethel Chapel.

Block H3 has been labelled the ‘Cambridge Collective’.  The heritage assets on Wellington Street and Cambridge Street will be retained and the poor quality modern additions to the rear of these buildings will be cleared. Within the new space a public square, offices and retails units will be created, with centre stage being given to a large hall and mezzannines that will be well suited to communal dining along the lines of the successful Kommune in Castlegate.

The images above are borrowed from the Heart of the City 2 website and from a video featured on the site. There is no point in us repeating all the detail from there, so do take a look at the website, in particular the pdf of the panels that were going to be exhibited as part of the consultation. Absent from these images are the retained historic frontages which will be the face of the Cambridge Collective for pedestrians as they walk towards it from the direction of the Moor or Pinstone Street. In a nutshell, H3 does what we always want to see – it makes use of heritage assets, recognising their community value. It is a long term investment in Sheffield’s future, rather than an exercise in making quick returns on demolition and replacement blocks.

The section labelled H1, towards the top of Cambridge Street and containing Leah’s Yard, the old Tap and Tankard (formerly Sportsman pub) and Chubby’s (the three buildings to the right on our montage above of Cambridge Street) , will be developed later but with a committment to make Leah’s Yard sound now to prevent further deterioration.  Leah’s Yard is Grade 2 star listed and has featured prominently on Historic England’s ‘at risk’ register for years.  A doorway in the scruffy frontage leads to the complex of little mester’s workshops that symbolise an important thread in Sheffield’s rich history. There is great potential here for redevelopment that celebrates the heritage of the small industries that are still at the heart of Sheffield.   We look forward to the success of the present proposals helping to bring this idea alive. 

Cambridge Street is steeped in history and features in the earliest maps as one of four or five of the first roads in Sheffield centre. We are pleased to see that the historic street pattern is now being retained, alongside a scheme involving retention of so much of the existing historic fabric. HHB committee member J.Robin Hughes has painstakingly researched the history of these buildings on Cambridge Street and for a detailed look at when these building were built, who they were occupied by, and in some cases what stood on the land before, we refer you to this article.

In a departure from Leonard Design, which was involved in previous stages of HoC2, Sheffield Council appointed Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios for H2 and H3.  This is a nationally respected firm of architects based in London with a good track record in schemes that involve redeveloping heritage assets. Whereas H2 is an all out modern office block, H3 has the challenge of blending the retained heritage assets with their new modern neighbour. H2 has a dark and brooding presence, but this is something that can work well and the overal effect is stylish.

One concern might be with the height of H2, and leaving a storey or two off would create more breathing space for the historic frontages, but we are also well aware of other tower blocks in the pipeline further along Wellington street which will tower over H2 and there needs to be balance and phasing of height differences.

Whilst we would prefer H2 to be a little less looming, perhaps the bigger question is to what extent H3 should reflect the character of H2. The visuals show H3 as an appealing contemporary feeling space. As mentioned, much of this space will be created by removing poor quality extensions from the rear of the Bethel Sunday School and DINA (the buildings themselves have already been gutted to a large extent). As far as the rear of all these buildings is concerned, there is not a lot of existing good quality historic fabric to make a thing of. One opportunity lies with the rear of the Bethel Chapel and it is good to see this featured well in the visuals.

The prominent use of rust covered Corten in the designs is one concern for us. The consultation materials on the HoC2 website linked above, explain the rationale for material choices. From the visuals Corten is being suggested for the roof and possibly some external walls of the new structure. On balance we think the designs look very good but worry that this material will seem a poor choice ten years down the line. Traditional materials might not have the same contemporary feel and impact, but we suspect will have more lasting appeal.

There is one area where existing historic fabric really can be made a feature of, and here we turn to our main suggestion for how the scheme can be improved. Albert Works was once a four storey building, but all that now remains of it is a two storey facade. As part of the proposals put forward, access to the new development has been created from Cambridge Street by fully demolishing the Albert Works frontage.

We recognise the need for access but would really welcome seeing the Albert Works frontage adapted by creating sufficient pedestrian access through it. Built above one of the bricked up doorways is an old date stone, preserved at the time of construction from a previous building (see Robin Hughes’ discussion). The Albert Works frontage is an structure which we think can add value to the scheme and be adapted as an interesting feature.

The proposed complete demolition of the Albert Works facade is our greatest concern in what is on balance a strong scheme at consultation stage. It is good to comment on such a prominent heritage retention scheme for Sheffield involving top class architects.   

It would be a mistake to generalise about ‘the Council’ and heritage.  The truth is a large city council such as Sheffield’s is an evolving entity, made up of many parts and people. Past mistakes don’t have to be continuously repeated and recognition should be given where it is deserved, to Sheffield Council and in particular to Nalin Seneviratne, who heads up the Heart of the City II regeneration scheme. We look forward to seeing the planning application going in on this and to what this scheme will do to further improve Sheffield’s city centre.

Please submit your own responses here

Heart of the City 2 consultation

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