Six years on and Primesite are back with one of the most tasteless planning applications we have seen. Can they get away with this? There are lots of reasons to think not; the application is weak, valid planning reasons to reject are strong and we now have a planning committee that has recently made a stand for heritage.
It’s *not* a foregone conclusion that these buildings – Sheffield’s oldest surviving shops, built c.1830 – are lost. The 2015 application seems to have expired, the planning officer so far will not be drawn on whether it has or not. Primesite and their agent ‘Urbana’ (a rebrand of CODA planning…) are clearly seeing what they can get away with here, but even if the old application is still live on some technicality (we will look into this…), the 2015 plans may no longer be commercially viable. If these current proposals are rejected they could decide to sell and move on.
The deadline for comments is Friday 12th March. If you would like to object, have a read below, then please follow this link
Please note that this is a fresh application in its own right and should be treated as such, irrespective of the previous application. The planning agent has made claims in newspaper reports and in the planning application that ‘the principle of demolition has already been established’. This is misleading nonsense. Permission to demolish is tied exclusively to the 2015 plans that were approved. For whatever reason Primesite have been in no rush to see through those plans. The previous plans may or may not have expired. At this stage, it doesn’t matter either way really: this has to be treated as a fresh application for two reasons:
1) Even if the old planning permission is live, it may no longer be commercially viable (that would be the best explanation for a new application trying to get more out of the site). Covid19 has turned the accomodation market on its head and students are no longer so desperate for the sort of pokey accommodation offered in the original plans. The bottom line is, if the current planning application is rejected, Primesite may decide to sell on.
2) Developers can’t be allowed to make one application that makes all sorts of promises about sensitive replacements in order to get permission to demolish, then claim that the principle of demolition has been established and they can build anything they like, no matter how repulsive. Remember Adam Murray’s repeated assurances? (he was planning person for CODA then and is now boss of ‘Urbana’) – he kept saying that the 2015 scheme looked very similar to the original shops, so there was no harm to the character of the area or to townscape value. Now his company is arguing that the current proposed monstrosity has positive townscape value?! This application should be taken at face value and the negative impact of the proposals, including the loss of Sheffield oldest shops, weighed in full.
The reasons to object to this are similar to the reasons that should have been used to reject the first application. It’s just that in this case the proposals are even worse.
- This development has a harmful impact on the setting of the Grade II listed Wharncliffe Fireclay works.
- Poor design – “Planning policies and decisions should ensure that developments: a) will function well and add to the overall quality of the area, not just for the short term but over the lifetime of the development; b) are visually attractive as a result of good architecture, layout and appropriate and effective landscaping; c) are sympathetic to local character and history, including the surrounding built environment and landscape setting, while not preventing or discouraging appropriate innovation or change (such as increased densities);” NPPF 127
- Loss of heritage assets of local importance – the oldest surviving shops in Sheffield, dated from around 1830. The recent history of the buildings, e.g. that they narrowly escaped being destroyed in the Blitz adds to their importance
- The buildings are part of an important early group of buildings, as noted by Sheffield Council’s own planning policy. The loss of these buildings has a harmful impact on the whole group.
- The loss of the heritage assets and the harm to this important group of early buildings has a negative impact on the Devonshire Green Area of Special Character (as designated by Sheffield Council’s own planning policy).
- Sustainable development. These are perfectly serviceable buildings that have stood the test of time and are ideally suited to independent businesses which are valued so much in this location. Their demolition has a negative ecological impact which is not counterbalanced by the arrival of a big new ‘eco friendly’ office block.
Planning officers are employed to process planning applications and approve or decline many of them by themselves. However, for a scheme attracting strong public interest such as this one goes it goes to the planning committee to decide. The planning committee is made of councillors who have had some training. The planning officer writes a report recommending a decision one way or the other, with their reasons. The planning committee weigh the report up and then make their own decisions. Lately they have gone against the planning officer’s advice on heritage matters. Where there is threat of government planning inspectors being asked to overrule planning decisions, Sheffield’s planning officers have been reluctant to give advice that risks costing the council money. There is some sense in that, but clearly this approach invites the danger of some developers taking more and more liberties. Sheffield planning officers have rarely made a strong stand to protect heritage, despite National Planning Policy that would support them. Someone has to take a stand, or the situation will just get worse and worse – just as we are seeing here.
There are perfectly sound reasons to reject this scheme, based on planning policy at local and national level (which cannot easily be ignored by government planning officers). In this case there is an actual law that can be cited, which would be very difficult for any Government planning inspector to argue with.
The planning rules relate to the protection of our heritage, and the specific law is about the protection of the setting of listed buildings. The chances of Sheffield Council planning officers kicking off about the need to protect our heritage are small, especially when more than half the officers whose job it was to advise on this have recently lost their jobs, but one lives in hope. Another problem is that planning officers feel the need to take a consistent approach and they do not usually champion the protection of listed buildings and their settings.
Most of us know instinctively why this these plans should be rejected, but in terms of what ‘counts’ as a ‘valid planning consideration’, first on the list, for the simple reason that it is the hardest to argue against and backed up by definite planning law, should be that the harm to the setting of the Grade II listed Wharncliffe Firelay Works, cannot be justified when balancing other negative aspects of this proposal against the almost complete lack of positives.
The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (1)
Section 66 (1): In considering whether to grant planning permission or permission in principle for development which affects a listed building or its setting, the local planning authority or, as the case may be, the Secretary of State shall have special regard to the desirability of preserving the building or its setting or any features of special architectural or historic interest which it possesses.
As Historic England explain , “the recent Court of Appeal decision in the case of Barnwell vs East Northamptonshire DC 2014(2) made it clear that in enacting section 66(1) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (1) Parliament’s intention was that ‘decision makers should give “considerable importance and weight” to the desirability of preserving the setting of listed buildings’ when carrying out the balancing exercise’.”
To be in no doubt that this is a resilient law that can be used in this case and defended robustly against any planning inspector, here is a further legal development.
“Setting” just means anything that affects our appreciation of a listed building. If you walk down Devonshire Street, first past the old Bed shop and Rare and racey, then along past the old Mr Kites (the Green Room), you get a feeling you are in the company of good old Victorian (and pre-victorian with the buildings under threat) buildings. They are the perfect set up for the excellent Grade II listed Wharncliffe Fireclay Works. They help us appreciate it in its original historic context. Or stand across Devonshire Street – what view are you going to use to best appreciate it? It’s a beautiful building, but it’s not best appreciated compared with the modern medical centre on one side.
This comparison below clearly shows the negative impact on the setting of the listed building, – the best context to appreciate the listed building is alongside the Victorian and pre-victorian buildings that have always been its neighbours. The group of buildings contributes massively to the special character of Devonshire Green -the whole group must be protected!
You can object to the plans here – the deadline for comments is Friday 12th March