Ancient Monuments Society
The demolition of the 1902 Edwardian Block amounts to the total demolition of a principal listed building – that is a structure listed in its own right and not a curtilage structure. This is now an extraordinarily rare event in England. There are 390,000 listed buildings in England and yet in the whole of 2012 there were only 6 applications to demolish principal listed buildings, other than those prompted by spectacular collapse, fire or re-siting – and we are not aware that any of those 6 have so far won consent.
The Ancient Monuments Society share the view of the Victorian Society, that the 1902 block is a handsome, finely detailed design, conceived expressly for that location and is remarkably contextual, a model example of the deftness which the Victorians and Edwardians brought to ‘keeping in keeping’.
Listing only makes sense if it creates a strong presumption in favour of retention, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) makes it quite clear that the loss of a listed building should be exceptional and it is just not possible in this application to accept that that is the case.
We welcome the care with which the applicants have examined the various options but they have plumped for the option of total demolition on the back of an analysis of the self-same building which shows that it is clearly capable of repair and conversion. The relative lack of interest of the interiors invites a robust approach to conversion which should be welcome to an owner, and that decision-making under the NPPF surely has to be driven by objective application of its criteria not the convenience of the applicant?
The new building is striking and would become a local landmark. We support Sheffield University as adventurous architectural clients, but we can see no evidence that appreciation of the new would be compromised to any extent by retaining the 1902 block. The University can set an example as both a design pioneer and the responsible custodian of listed buildings within the same application and same project. This is absolutely not a case where the choice is between ‘safe’ retention and ‘bold’ new design. It can be both.
The original intention, as we understand it, was to keep the listed building that is now under threat. We urge the University to revert to Plan A.
Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings
Given that the building proposed for demolition is Edwardian we would defer to the expertise of the Victorian Society. However, we fully endorse the views and advice of the Victorian Society and offer the following comments on this occasion.
The Society’s review of the application documentation concludes that this building is entirely worthy and capable of a sound and sensitive re-use. We understand that the building in its present form, and in isolation, would fail to meet all the University’s Engineering requirements and aspirations at this time, but this does not equate to the building being of little or no interest or incapable of a successful re-use.
We regretfully note that Option 1: re-use of the Edwardian extension appears to have been discounted quite early on in the development process, and, in favor of Option 2: Façade retention with new build. Not only was Façadism recognised as poor conservation and planning practice some years ago but it is also disappointing and saddening to discern from the documentation that buildings such as the Edwardian wing are thought not capable of meeting modern requirements in terms of sustainability.
We consider that re-use of this building would, in itself, make a most positive contribution to sustainability. Our ground breaking research (and that of others including English Heritage) on the thermal performance of old buildings shows them to perform far better than recent thinking suggests. Additionally, traditionally constructed buildings are capable of sensitive refurbishment and upgrading (where shown to be necessary) to further improve their efficiency.
We urge the Council to review the justification for the demolition of this building and to ensure that the eventual decision is in accordance with local and national planning policy.