CAMPAIGN to clean up and revitalise the Wicker Arches to underline their significance as a gateway to Sheffield city centre is due to start rolling this month.
Representatives of businesses in the east end of the city are stepping up efforts to enlist public support to help secure investment and sponsorship.
The monumental arch should be seen as a symbol of Sheffield, said David Slater, who chairs the Attercliffe Business Connection, and it is hoped their restoration could include a sculpture commemorating Harry Brearley, the inventor of stainless steel in its centenary year.
“There is a real affection for the arches and a genuine desire to create an iconic landmark at the entrance to the city centre,” said Mr Slater.
Support has come from the council, which says some of the 42 arches in the 160-year-old structure could be used such as workshops and studios, cafés and bars - but plans are being held up by a lack of money and multiple ownerships.
Campaigners started the ball rolling last year, pressing for a clean up and full illumination of the arches. They are now preparing a formal launch with the backing of architects Coda Studios and Sheffield Civic Trust.
“The Wicker Arches represent a symbolic city gate that should say everything about what’s best in Sheffield,” said Mr Slater, managing director of regeneration company Spaces Sheffield Ltd.
“Thousands of cars pass by in and out on the ring road every day.
“The links in and out of Sheffield city centre from the Lower Don Valley have been recognised and the opportunities to create a tourist destination are waiting to be capitalised on. There is work to be done and investment and sponsorship is required.”
Mr Slater added: “Clearly there is an appetite. People are sending messages of support, saying: ‘This is great’.”
Another ABC member, David Baldwin director of Structural Interiors, said: “We should start to treat this as a main gateway to Sheffield and tidy up those beautiful stone arches. They are an absolute disgrace.
“Stand down there for five minutes and imagine being a visitor from Leeds or Nottingham. It’s enough to make you want to crawl under a rock to hide from the shame and embarrassment.
“First impressions are everything and we are failing this gateway. A removal of undergrowth, a stone clean and some attractive lighting would make the Wicker Arches a statement feature for locals and visitors alike.”
ABC says Spital Hill is ‘the home of stainless steel’ and ‘surely a monument to Harry Brearley should sit in front of the arches on the grassy area in front of the new Tesco’.
The council says the arches and viaduct of are only a part are an important gateway to the city centre, but accepts that many of its 42 arches are currently underused and suffering from graffiti, damp and overgrown vegetation.
Since the adoption of the Wicker Riverside Action Plan in 2007, renovation of the arches has been a priority, it says.
In fact, they have been cleaned three times in recent years - in the 1970s, in 1991 and as recently as 2009 when the council worked with Network Rail, and floodlighting was installed.
“Some of the floodlighting of the arches, along with the feature lighting on the Wicker, is currently not operational due to problems with a change in electricity supplier, but it is hoped that it will be fully working again early in the New Year,” said council programmes partnership team manager Neil Jones.
“The council remains keen to work in partnership with Network Rail to clean up the listed monumental arch over the Wicker. We also want to renovate as many of the 42 arch voids as possible, to create affordable workspace/studios. The arches along Walker Street are particularly suited to workspace uses, with cafés or bars at ground floor, giving the opportunity to create a dual aspect from Walker Street and the ring road/Spital Hill.
“Unfortunately, due to lack of funding and the problems raised by the multiple ownerships of the arch voids - many of which have been sold off by Network Rail to private owners - we have so far been unable to progress the improvement of the arches facing the inner relief road any further.
“However the Wicker Arches still remain a priority, and we would be eager to work in partnership with local businesses and property owners to make progress on this project.”
The council hopes the campaign “will encourage the owners of the arches to talk to officers about improvements”.
The arches used to carry the railway line to Manchester, running from the old Victoria Station, which has been suggested as a potential location for high speed trains, although Meadowhall remains favourite.