A MAJOR campaign to save part of Sheffield’s industrial heritage for craftspeople, artists and musicians was given a boost this week as an alternative scheme for apartments was thrown into doubt.
City planners have concluded that using Portland Works for housing would be “unacceptable” when moves are under way that would see the historic complex operating in a manner for which it was built.
The grade II* listed building in Randall Street, near Bramall Lane, was the first place in the world to produce stainless steel, and currently offers a low-cost home to about 20 businesses and other groups, ranging from metal and wood workers to artists and musicians.
They are seen as following in the footsteps of the Little Mesters, on whom Sheffield made an international reputation, and campaign supporters want to maintain the tradition of craftsmanship by taking the building into social ownership.
More than 2,000 people have signed an online petition to back the strategy.
Planners recommend that council permission be refused for a project that would refurbish part of the works and see other sections demolished to make way for extensions, creating 59 apartments, offices and units where tenants could live and work.
They acknowledge that the owners have worked hard to retain the character of the building, which dates from the 1870s, in the proposed redevelopment, and accept other listed buildings have been turned into homes after industrial use has ended.
“However, at Portland Works it is not the case that the building is vacant and in disrepair with a residential conversion the only option to ensure long-term survival,” says a council officers’ report.
“Most of the space is occupied by industrial uses, still some using original machinery, and there is an alternative viable use in the form of the existing businesses wishing to continue operating from the site.”
According to national planning guidelines, the original use of listed buildings should be preferred, and local officers warn of a “dilution of the character and appearance” of the works if housing was allowed.
Councillors will decide on May 3 whether to accept the recommendation, and they are under huge community and political pressure to reject housing.
Objections have been lodged by Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green politicians, including former and current Sheffield Central MPs Richard Caborn and Paul Blomfield and council leader Paul Scriven.
The Victorian Society says Portland Works is a “rare building”, while Sharrow Community Forum says it is “a vital part of Sheffield’s history and creative future”.
Organisers of the Save Portland Works campaign had welcomed the owner’s offer of a breathing space before the council verdict, to give them the time to prepare a share issue with a view to buying the building.
Finishing touches are being put to a business plan for the launch of an issue that aims to raise up to £750,000. Shares worth £100 to £20,000 will be offered.
Even in advance of the launch, Derek Morton, who chairs the organising committee, said he was “pretty confident” the first £100,000 had been secured, partly as a result of open days when the public could look around the building and see demonstrations of grinding, forging, knife-making, engraving and plating.
“We are a group of volunteers and amateurs essentially but we have put together what we think is a really solid business plan,” he said.
“It’s a model that has worked for village shops and post offices on a small scale and we feel that it is something that can ultimately be of great benefit to Sheffield.”
Mr Morton added: “A lot of the building is under-used and there could be about 50 workshops and studios. There could be a concentration of skills – a place where Sheffield’s past meets Sheffield’s future.”