One battle lost

Bad news folks.  You may have heard that Eric Pickles decided not to call in Sheffield University’s planning application.  Which means they are free to now go ahead and demolish this precious piece of our heritage.  Sheffield University should be ashamed of themselves, but it was Sheffield Council who were charged with looking after our Grade II Listed buildings and have failed the City so dismally.  We can’t blame the planning officers – that is for sure, they tried their best – before they were told how much their judgement counted for.  How embarrassing for Sheffield, ‘Philistine City’ is how some know us – unfortunately the powers that be are helping that label stick and ushering in a new era for this country where no Grade II Listed building is safe.

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All true but for the last sentence – come on Eric Pickles, call this in


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Desperately in need of MPs to help save this building


With perhaps a little as one week left before a decision is reached, we are urging all MPs with an interest in preserving our Nation’s Heritage to act and bring the importance of this case to the attention of Eric Pickles.

Edwardian Jessop building

Under threat – Sheffield’s Grade II Listed Edwardian Jessop Hospital building

Since last December we have unearthed a bizarre trail of evidence that shows Sheffield City Council Planning Officers were strongly opposed to Sheffield University’s plans to demolish the Grade II listed Jessop Edwardian Hospital building to gain extra 10% space for a new Engineering building.  They had been instructed to ‘recommend’ the application.  The planning reports are a strange documents – they keep restating the ‘brief’  (the requirements) of the applicant, whilst at the same time criticising the design and the conservation implications.   We now know what the planning officers thought of the ‘brief’ – they thought is was completely unacceptable.  We know, via FOI, that the Head of Urban Design and Conservation unreservedly condemned the proposals and summed up the view of his colleagues also:

As you are all too aware my view (reflected by that of CAG, the Design Panel and fellow officers) is that the proposals for Jessop east have both serious conservation implications and constitute poor design and should therefore be refused in accordance with the NPPF. However, I fully understand that the economic benefits are considered to outweigh such concerns.
You have a difficult job but to ensure that we do not look foolish as an authority and do not make it impossible for us to refuse proposals on design grounds in future we have to be very clear about the balance that is being struck and the failings of the proposals.
I’ve done my best to think of some positives but have come up with very little. My central thought is that you could frame your report in terms of the views presented to you by the applicant ie using phrases such as ‘it is claimed that’, ‘the approach is based on the concept that etc without commiting SCC to sharing in this belief/approach. Sorry, you will be doing this already, but I’m really struggling to find anything I consider positive. Perhaps the following:

The planning reports, with their ‘recommendation’ to allow an important part of Sheffield’s Heritage be destroyed, pin everything on an argument about public benefit.  The case put forward is entirely economic, that an extra 10% space gained by demolition of an important listed building, will create a boost in investment in the City that can justify the permanent loss of an historic building which is vital to Sheffield’s Heritage and the Nation’s Social History.  At the first committee meeting where this application was discussed, SCC Head of Planning agreed with Councillor David Baker (who voted to decline the application) that the extra space gained by demolition would allow for approximately 90 extra engineering students per year.

The restoration of the Victorian building shows the potential of the Edwardian building.

The restoration of the Victorian building shows the potential of the Edwardian building.

St Georges Church in the distance - the special character of the area will be wrecked by the 'NEB'

St Georges Church in the distance – the special character of the area will be wrecked by the ‘NEB’

Trashing Sheffield's Heritage

Trashing Sheffield’s Heritage

The University’s proposals are one sided – the only detailed analysis is reserved for their preferred option.  Their attempts (if you can call them that) to consider alternative use were rejected by another council officer (the only comment in the planning file from an officer consulted about the reliability of the University analysis):

“. In the absence of the proposals of the University I do think that the property could eventually be converted to a mixed use scheme with residential use on the upper floors and a bar/ restaurant on ground floor…
…in particular there are several references to the fact that the University does not wish to sell the property and that if it did so it would include restrictive covenants in any sale document preventing anything other than educational use. That may well be factually correct but the point of the exercise would be to determine whether there is a viable alternative use which could be found for the property rather than demolition. To restrict uses in this way would make that even more difficult and so the appraisals in the report based on that assumption are not strictly relevant in this context….
The appraisal based on academic and office space that includes the adjoining land makes a marginal loss of £16,375. Minor changes to some of the cost and value assumptions would make this a positive figure which whilst not generating a large profit could be marginally viable.
The cost and value assumptions in the hotel are in my view somewhat pessimistic and with different assumptions a different residual would arise as opposed to the £2.6 million loss shown but I do accept that this may not currently be a viable option
My biggest question is with the student housing appraisal and in particular why this appraisal does not include the adjoining vacant site. Whilst I have not run an appraisal I do find it very difficult to believe that the site and listed building if marketed together would not produce a viable development.
There are statements in the report that such a use would not be ‘achievable for planning reasons’. From our discussion I understand that whilst this would not be the preferred use, it could not be refused on policy grounds.”

The University’s agent, Chris Miele, favoured by Tesco for getting their supermarkets into ‘sensitive locations’, had the University asserting a particular reading of NPPF para 134, about ‘public benefit’ – that the Edwardian building was an insignificant extension and not a principle listed building, and therefore the public benefit created by a 10% gain in space would exceed the loss suffered by demolition of the Edwardian building. This view of the inferior status of the Edwardian building has been roundly rejected by all those consulted, the Council’s Conservation Officers, and indeed the University’s historical report also contradicts this assumption.

Sheffield City Council, have then, in their eagerness to approve the University application, put forward their own argument to justify demolition – a reading of NPPF para 133. That is, despite the fact the building is a principle listed building, the loss suffered would still be outweighed by the economic gains of the 10% boost in space offered by demolition.  Yet this is against the advice of their own planning officers and advisers.  The advice from their own planning officers was for a more conventional and responsible understanding of NPPF para 133 –  that only when alternative uses, and owners, of a building had been discounted, only then could demolition be even considered.  The same point is roundly made by Sheffield City Council’s own Sustainable Development and Design Panel in their report.

We have to ask – who at Sheffield City Council actually gave the order to pass these plans, given the objections raised by the planning department, and given that the heads of Planning and Development at the Council had, after protracted negotiations with the University, signed off a letter instructing the University to come back with a scheme which protected the Listed Edwardian building.

We know the University did not conduct case studies for schemes involving retention of the Edwardian building.  There is no comparative analysis that shows what that extra 10% space gained by demolition could really achieve, in the public interest, over a scheme which preserved this Grade II listed building.  That is a very basic requirement, to know what is being achieved in the public’s interest by demolishing their heritage. Arguments about Public benefit are value judgements, but if the Council, in adducing NPPF para 133, can’t even demonstrate that any evaluation of the various factors of public benefit have been considered, this leaves their argument  – to repeat, not an argument the University put forward – fatally flawed.

Sheffield Labour MPs were reported by MP Paul Blomfield to all be behind this scheme in April 2012, well before the application was even submitted.   We urge them now to reconsider their position in the light of what has since emerged and the obvious uproar this has caused in Sheffield.  However all eyes are now on this case at a National level, for if this application gets passed it will be a very conspicuous signal that really no Grade II Listed buildings are safe.  The very meaning of a listed building is under threat if a listed building can really be destroyed on the basis of what is no more than an argument for Convenience, rather than any necessity.

We urge Eric Pickles to call this application in and see that good sense prevails.

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‘We rehearsed the decision in December’


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.

(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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Update – 21st Feb 2013


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.

“Dear David
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
David “

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 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.

A closer look at some of the fine exterior features of the building








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.

Victorian (right) and Edwardian wings together, before the Victorian wing was restored.


Victorian wing Restored

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

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