‘We rehearsed the decision in December’

PLEASE CLICK HERE TO SIGN THE PETITION TO SECRETARY OF STATE ERIC PICKLES TO SAVE THIS BUILDING

To all the people that attended the meeting on Monday – thank you for coming, and sorry for assuming the committee would deal with the item first as they did last time. For those of you still wondering, the committee voted the same as last time, split on political party lines – 3 Lib Dems against, 5 labour councillors in favour of the University’s plans.

A new planning report had been written, which added significant new content, and the committee had been reconvened to make a decision that was in accordance with correct procedures.  This was because the first decision had been invalidated as far as NPCU was concerned (they would not accept the referral) because the Council consulted only one of the six national Amenity Societies.

Edwardian Jessop building

Amazingly, at the start of the meeting those of us who wanted to speak were ushered to the back of the room and informed by the Chair of the committee that “we’re only looking at the amenity societies responses today.  I’m afraid we can’t discuss anything else.”    ..What?..   “The decision has already been made, we just need to consider the amenity consultations’

Upon protesting we were advised, “If you talk about anything else then I’m afraid I am going to stop you”.  ..  ‘But important new information has come to light via FOI requests…’     “No sorry,  if you’ve got a problem with this then take it to the national level, get legal advice”

When it finally came to our turn we were formally reminded by the officer present that “We do not consider that the amenity societies responses add anything new to this case.  We rehearsed the decision in December and this is just to consider the amenity society responses and whether they have made any difference to the decision made then”

Nothing new?  Is the statistic from Ancient Monuments Society nothing new?:

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.

It is a comment which puts this decision firmly into perspective, Sheffield City Council have just projected themselves onto the cutting edge of mercenary disposal of Grade II listed buildings.

Clearly the decision WAS being made afresh and the committee had a golden opportunity to consider important new evidence, yet the members of the committee were being instructed that they were not to consider any evidence other than the recently received amenity society consultations.  What was that evidence? – To start with that the entire planning department, including heads of planning and development had, following months of negotiations, written to Chris Miele, opposing the plans for demolition, referring to the failure of the NEB design and describing it as an “ungainly big box”.  Chris Miele is Sheffield University’s chosen representative, favoured also by Tesco for getting their supermarkets into “sensitive areas”.

Moreover, an updated planning report Mk2 presented, for the first time, highly damaging evidence regarding the lack of adequate financial analysis in the University’s application and the absence of proper feasibility studies into alternative use of the building. From FOI requests we have seen there is just one email from a council officer offering judgement about this, and it casts doubt over the reliability of the University’s assessment.  Yet this vital information was not present in the first planning committee report.

Whilst waiting to speak there had in fact been time to send a few emails (thanks Smartphones) and  “take it to the national level and get legal advice”.  A very kind and helpful barrister had emailed back:

The council is required to have regard to all material considerations and is not constrained to simply consider why the application was returned to committee.

Consequently:
(I) Representations can refer to everything that’s relevant, including officer views disclosed by FOI;
(Ii) The committee should consider the merits of the scheme in the light of everything that is relevant. They can change their mind from December.

Once this had been read out the chairman turned to the council legal advisor, who looked at a loss and said “I have nothing further to add”.  The chairman said “Then we’ll have to agree to differ won’t we?”  ‘So am I allowed to speak now without being stopped?’    “You can say what you want to say but I cannot promise that what you say will be taken into consideration.”

It did seem that for some of those councillors, it wouldn’t have mattered what had been said.  Yet confusion reigned throughout the meeting from the moment the Chair and Officer pronounced on what would be considered.   In one sublime moment, halfway through the process of making their votes, one councillor asked:  “So can I clarify, if we vote against the application now then the application will be rejected?” (The Chair paused for thought..)  “Yes”.     The councillor asking the question wasn’t being stupid, he was underlining the complete lack of transparency of a meeting which had instructed members that the decision had already been ‘rehearsed’ and that they were only to consider the belated Amenity Society consultations.

It would be fantastic to read detailed minutes on this meeting, but it is doubtful that detailed minutes will ever be published, they weren’t after the last meeting.  People need to know what happened on Monday, which at a many levels was highly dubious.

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