'Secret garden' fighters claim David and Goliath victory

CAMPAIGNERS trying to save a Victorian 'secret garden' at Broomhill from housing developers have won a dramatic victory.

After six months of pressure they saw councillors reject a proposed redevelopment of the site of Tapton hall of residence, including Sheffield University's experimental gardens.

The application was rejected on the basis of overdevelopment, the loss of the walled gardens and a row of lime trees and the impact on a conservation area and a failure to agree on a formula for affordable housing.

Now community representatives are waiting to see whether the university and its development partner, Miller Homes, appeal against Monday's council verdict.

Members of the Broomhill Action Neighbourhood Group believe a solution can be found that allows both housing and the retention of the 'secret garden' as a public park. They say grants are potentially available but their hands are tied at the moment because the land is owned by the university.

For the moment, though, BANG was delighted to have won the backing of councillors, describing it as a David and Goliath battle.

Secretary Mark Pickering said: "Here's a little residents' association which charges members 2 a year, with an annual income of about 500, and these two organisations have an annual income of around 900m. We think we have done quite well."

Councillors spent three-and-a-half hours debating the scheme for 69 apartments and 48 houses between Crookes Road and Taptonville Road.

A report by planning officers indicated that the only significant obstacle to be overcome was an agreement on affordable housing – the financial contribution by Miller Homes towards homes below the market value either at Tapton or elsewhere.

With no satisfactory deal on the table, councillors were being advised to reject the whole scheme. But the politicians weighed in with their own additional reasons for turning down the developers and the university.

Coun Tony Holmes said: "I think in Sheffield too much of our heritage has been hidden from view and should be protected for the people of Sheffield to see – not to be hidden."

Coun John Hesketh said the scheme was trying to cram too much into a sensitive site, adding later: "Parts of this site clearly need development, including the unsightly student residence blocks.

"I sincerely hope the developers come back with a more sensitive scheme that gets rid of the eyesores but enhances the semi-rural feels to many parts of this site.

"I hope they see the planning board's decision as an opportunity to work on a better quality proposal."

The university insisted that the development would provide "valuable green space and new family housing", opening up a large part of the site for public enjoyment, far larger than in most residential developments.

It was intended to retain the central arboretum area, about 25% of the site, with its wildlife habitats, historic garden features and tree specimens planted in the Sixties and Seventies by the university's then botany department.

Some of the plants from the experimental gardens would be offered to the Botanical Gardens.

Jim Lomas, agent for the developers, protested to councillors that throwing out the plans after two-and-a-half years of negotiations would be "a travesty."

But it was BANG who were celebrating at the end of the marathon session at the Town Hall, with Mr Pickering pointing to wider implications.

"This conflict for the last six months has badly damaged the reputation of the university not just in Broomhill but across the city," he said.

"When we collecting names for the petition, and we got more than 1,600, it was astounding how many people not living in Broomhill said that they thought the university was overbearing in this part of Sheffield.

"Everybody appreciates how important it is for the city's economy, but it seems to have lost sight of its responsibilities as a neighbour in the area in which it sits."

Some plants from the experimental gardens would be offered to the Botanical Gardens.

Jim Lomas, agent for the developers, protested to councillors that throwing out the plans after two-and-a-half years of negotiations would be “a travesty”.

But it was BANG who were celebrating at the end of the marathon session at the Town Hall, with Mr Pickering pointing to wider implications.

“This conflict for the last six months has badly damaged the reputation of the university not just in Broomhill but across the city,” he said. “When we were collecting names for the petition, and we got more than 1,600, it was astounding how many people not living in Broomhill said that they thought the university was overbearing in this part of Sheffield.

“Everybody appreciates how important it is for the city’s economy but it seems to have lost sight of its responsibilities as a neighbour in the area in which it sits.”