Only last week we reported (see below) on the discovery, using FOI requests, that not only were Sheffield City Council’s own advisory panels disapproving of Sheffield University’s plans to demolish the Grade II listed Edwardian Jessop Hospital Building, but that Sheffield City Council Planning Department itself had at one stage, even after months of negotiation, resisted Sheffield University’s proposals.
The latest news is about the reason for the delays which gave us time to make the FOI requests. When the planning committee voted on December 17th to approve the University’s plans for demolition of the Edwardian building, the council had only consulted one National Amenity Society, The Victorian Society. However, the relevant Govt. advice states that all six Amenity Societies should be consulted. Weeks later, the Council, having now ‘retrospectively consulted’, have responses in from most of the Amenity Societies. A new planning report has been written which includes these responses and the planning committee are scheduled to judge again on this application on Monday 25th February at 2pm.
One would hope that the planning committee might now be more aware of the widespread disdain felt for their treatment of this application in December when the planning committee voted to approve Sheffield University’s plans. At the time the vote was split on party political grounds, 4 Labour councillors in favour of demolition, 2 Lib Dems against.
The new Amenity Society responses received are highly critical, and yet …. still the planning report recommends demolition. You can read the planning report here.
The Ancient Monuments Society (AMS) and the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) have both submitted comments. You can read both responses here. It is not clear whether the Council For British Archaeology have now submitted a response, but at the time of writing of the planning report on 18th Feb this had not been received. It is customary for the Amenity Societies which concern themselves with set periods to defer to societies whose periods of interest overlap with the case. That is why the Georgian and 20C Societies have not commented.
One observation from AMS is notable – that something like this is virtually unheard of in this day and age; that in all of 2012 they are not aware of any such application for demolition of listed buildings being passed. That is at a National level. It is remarkable and shameful that Sheffield should be projected onto the national arena because of such poor attitudes to Sheffield’s Heritage from its two most powerful organisations.. Now that there is wider awareness of what has happened here, should this application still be passed and referred to Secretary of State we can be sure it will not only be the Sheffield Star that takes an interest in this story.
This news about the amenity society consultations (or lack of) follows other revelations recently discovered via Freedom of Information requests. In particular we learnt of a carefully crafted letter, which had input from the heads of planning and heads of development, outlining an intent to ensure the University preserved the Edwardian building and designed something better than an “ungainly big box”, which is how they described the New Engineering Building design. Click here to read this Letter from the council to Sheffield University, 21st May 2012. It is galling, given all that has now happened, that the most powerful letter of objection to Sheffield University’s plans came from Sheffield City Council’s own planning department.
An email from the head of planning to his team, sent 28thJune, demonstrates a continued strong and principled position. At the same time the University, knowing the planning officers had already effectively rebutted their plans, was actively engaging support from the politicians. A meeting then took place on 13th July. This meeting was attended by the Vice Chancellor of Sheffield University, the head of Estate Management at the University, the Chief Executive of Sheffield Council and the heads of planning and the head of Development.
Correspondence between the planning officers, the University and their agents that took place after this meeting takes on a much different tone. The emails seem now to contain an implicit assumption that the show must go on, that despite “fundamental reservations” the planning officers must proceed with discussions about the fine details of the “Ungainly big box” (their description).
Also of interest are emails (which start in August) where the University states its aim to hit the deadline for the application to be considered at the planning meeting of 17th December, just before everyone goes on holiday for Christmas.
Following the very helpful workshop I would be grateful if you could formally confirm the last day when a planning application can be submitted. As discussed we wish to hit the deadline for the planning committee on 17 December. I calculate this with a 13 week period as being Friday 21 September as the final deadline date.
Formal confirmation of this will be most helpful and I look forward to hearing from you shortly
You can find all the emails resulting from the FOI request dated 5th Feb here.
Some background information
The Jessop Edwardian building is Grade II listed, of significant historical and architectural importance and great emotional significance for the people of Sheffield. Numerous experts and advisory panels have now objected to these plans.
In the final few weeks before that planning committee meeting and as the general public began to become aware of these plans, the feedback from the general public was resounding. For every letter or email of support for the plans there were 14 against! The general public see the benefits clearly enough: new jobs, new investment, extra students, higher profile for the University. We all value these gains, but we also see that similar and only slightly smaller gains can be had whilst preserving this precious piece of history and a rare example of architecture.
The application was to go on to the National Planning Casework Unit for them to assess (as the Victorian Society, a statutory amenity society, had objected) and during that assessment Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles would have the opportunity, if he saw fit, to call the application in for further consideration. Six weeks on (at time of writing 7th Feb) the NPCU has yet to receive the required documentation to even begin considering the application.
Reading through the objections, and now the comments on the change.org petition, the message is strong – demolition of this Grade II listed building is simply uncalled for, the University can and would still go ahead and build a fantastic New Engineering Building if told to preserve the precious Edwardian building, it will just be one with a slightly reduced economy of scale. Many have commented on the lack of imagination of the developers – surely an elite engineering department and a University focussed on effective international marketing should be able to make the most of this city’s valuable industrial heritage rather than destroy it?
What may have been overwhelming for those councillors was the offer of such a grand investment hanging over ‘just these’ plans, but we all know that offer of investment was not going to go away. English Heritage have stated that only an ‘Overwhelming case’ can justify the complete destruction of a Grade II listed building. No overwhelming case has ever been demonstrated here, and to start weighing up the public interest of demolition is premature when the University has left so many avenues unexplored. This argument of public benefit lacks any credibility when public opinion is so demonstrably against demolition.
The University has gone to great lengths to encourage the view that this is an ‘either or’ situation – that if the plans to demolish the Edwardian building are not approved then the whole initiative is under threat. This is simply not true. The University has stated that it has reserved funds to restore and integrate the Edwardian building into a new design. If consent to demolish the Edwardian wing is not given then the University will simply adjust their targets. According to the first University statements retaining the Edwardian building will result in approximately 5% less space and 10% increase in costs. The University quickly revised their ‘brief’ – the space they said they needed – in order to justify eating up every bit of space on the site.
The above mock up indicates what a small proportion of the proposed new building the Edwardian building of Jessop Hospital would occupy. Apart from the loss of a listed building and severe damage to the setting of the adjacent Victorian building (the two buildings were listed as one item by English Heritage) the proposed development is completely out of keeping with the character of this area: St Georges Church, The Mappin Building, The Annex to Jessop Hospital and the Church of Nazarene on Victoria St, the settings of all these listed buildings would be harmed.
Apart from the misleading ‘either/or’ argument, The University has gone to considerable length to encouraged a number of false assumptions. Please click here for a debunking of the most commonly circulated ones.
Whilst the building has been allowed to deteriorate it is still very sound, just crying out for a century of dirt to be removed. Anyone who has watched an historic building such as this being restored will see the potential here, the improvement to the Victorian building is testament to this. Below is a photo of the Edwardian and Victorian buildings alongside one another, before the Victorian building was cleaned.
Take a look at some before and after photos of the Victorian wing
The two Jessop building are designed by the same celebrated Sheffield Architect, John Dodsley Webster, in sympathetic Gothic revival style but from different periods – a Victorian Wing and Edwardian Wing some 24 years later. Two halves make more than one here.
Sheffield University have argued that the Victorian wing, the one half which they have restored, embodies all that is architecturally significant about the Jessop Hospital, whilst the Edwardian Wing is an insignificant ‘extension’ which can conveniently be disposed of. This contradicts the advice of many experts who have commented on the building. Moreover, it contradicts the advice of The University’s very own research, published in 2008 which was used to support a planning application for a more sympathetic redevelopment of the site.
James Hughes, conservation advisor for the Victorian Society:
“Not only would it be a great loss in itself, but these plans would cause substantial harm to the setting of the rest of Jessop Hospital. This is because the building’s replacement, a new engineering block, fails to relate in scale or design to the listed Victorian building beside it. The Victorian wing as it is was restored a few years ago, it now is a wonderfully functioning music department. That provides a great example of what they could do with the Edwardian wing. It’s structurally sound, it’s eminently convertible and you still have an enormous site at the back of it to provide a large building. I think that both groups can be happy here. You can retain the building and provide a top-notch engineering department.”
The University has proceeded with a design which is blatantly and tastelessly out of keeping with the suggested location. The proposed design assumes the destruction of the Edwardian wing and assumes a dramatic and destructive effect on the traditional character of this area in order to assert a striking modern look and assert the importance of a new Engineering building and the lego-brick Leavygreave Corridor. This is a group of buildings unlikely to have any importance (or even exist) in a century from now.
The desire for a striking look, 10% building material savings and slightly greater capacity are the motives behind these plans, and yet none of these factors are compelling. The National Planning Policy Framework states that substantial harm to or loss of a grade II listed building should only be for an “exceptional reason”, the reasons motivating the University’s plans are not exceptional. As English Heritage have repeatedly pointed out, The University has a legal duty to protect the Edwardian Wing and the settings of these listed buildings unless demolition is absolutely necessary and substantial public benefits outweighing the obvious negative impact of this development can be demonstrated.
An overwhelming case in favour of demolition has clearly not been demonstrated here and so we are trying to inform Eric Pickles of the facts behind this case before a final judgement is made.
Please sign the Petition to Eric Pickles which is here