A new plan is being made to uncover the River Sheaf and use it as the centrepiece of a £1.35 million urban park in Sheffield at the site which gave the city its name.
The park would be created at the Sheaf Field between Castlegate and Exchange Street, where the demolished former Castle Market stood in the city centre.
Sheffield Council wants to take the roof off an underground culvert, which the river currently runs through and is in a poor state of repair, and bring the waterway back into the open, surrounded by grass, flowers, trees, seating and other landscaping. The aim is to make the area more attractive to visitors, bring in new investment and reduce the risk of flooding.
The scheme would also complement the proposed Castle Hill Park on the site of the former market, which the council and its partners are still pursuing and which will feature the exposed ruins of Sheffield Castle.
A funding application for £250,000 has been submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund. If this is successful, detailed designs will be drawn up and consultation carried out, and the council would then ask for the further £1.05m.
The Environment Agency provided a £50,000 grant to cover the cost of developing the initial lottery bid.
Simon Ogden, the council’s head of city regeneration, said: “We want to make the cleared market site something that matches the impact you get when you walk out of the railway station, or through the Peace Gardens. In this case we’re using the historic landscape to do that. It’s about trying to create a new focal point for the regeneration of the Castlegate quarter. That’s where most of our city centre hotels are, and the side of the city that most visitors to Sheffield see.”
He added: “It also chimes with the need for climate change resilience - to create more space for rivers, more green space and less hard surface areas.”
The park has the working title of Sheaf Field. A waterside meadow and an elevated viewpoint would be created at the waterside and low stone walls built overlooking the river. The weir within the Sheaf culvert will be lowered, and the river channel remodelled, to improve nature habitats.
The plans also involve using waymarkers or pavement art to follow the River Sheaf’s course where it remains in a tunnel under Castle Square, Sheaf Street, the railway station and through Granville Square.
Temporary art installations and ‘interactive sound experiences’ could be set up in the Megatron, a huge Victorian storm drain in the city centre. The possibility of launching guided trips though the network of tunnels will be explored.
“Part of the project will be to highlight where the river goes. Obviously you can’t move the station, but you can express it in some way on the platforms,” said Mr Ogden.
“A lot of it is about involving people and raising awareness. The Sheaf is almost completely invisible in the centre of the city that bears its name.”
A fish pass would be installed in the culvert, adding to work already under way to attract salmon back to the River Don, he said.
A similar, but smaller, ‘pocket park’ has already been created in the city centre beside the Porter Brook on Matilda Street.
In 2014 a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for £362,000, to start work on turning the ruined castle into a visitor attraction, was turned down. Any award from the fund would now be concentrated on work around the river, and reinstating the city centre’s old landscape.
The Friends of Sheffield Castle, Sheffield University and the River Stewardship Company are supporting the new project. A verdict on the HLF bid is expected in June. If it is approved, work could start on site at the end of 2017, with a completion date of early 2018.