Big hurdles ahead for Sheffield’s Don Valley vision

Don Valley vision
Don Valley vision

THE vision is spelled out, now comes the business of working out the details including, crucially, identifying potential sources of finance.

With Don Valley Stadium set for demolition, former Sheffield MP, Sports Minister and Trade Minister Richard Caborn laid out a strategy this week designed to uphold the reputation of the City of Sport.

There may be no more scope for athletics at Don Valley, but he envisaged possible homes for the Sheffield Eagles rugby league and Titans rugby union teams as well as venues for basketball, gymnastics and snooker (up to 16 tables in an academy that could provide the heats before the world championship at the Crucible).

Yet this was more than about playing games. It was also about attempting to put Sheffield at the forefront of developing new industries.

Partnerships are proposed with Sheffield Hallam University’s Centre for Sports Engineering Research and the Medical Advanced Manufacturing Centre at Catcliffe, which Mr Caborn is involved with.

Don Valley has the potential to accommodate a second University Technical College for Sheffield - the first £10m project is under construction in Shoreham Street - one where 14 to 19-year-olds would specialise in life sciences. The site could also become the home of a National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine

While the impending loss of ‘Jess Ennis’s stadium’ has been met with incredulity in parts of the country, Mr Caborn insisted that the east end of Sheffield could be a standard bearer of the Olympic legacy, with an unbroken campus stretching from the Arena to the English Institute of Sport.

“In effect it becomes an Advanced Sports and Well-Being Park giving a comprehensive delivery of the Olympic legacy that we promised in Singapore in 2005. It has the potential to build even further the sports, leisure and related wellness sector embracing and advancing a range of partners in the Sheffield City region that will have real and measurable impact on sporting performance at many levels.

“This is an economic wealth generation project which would take the Don Valley Stadium site from being under-utilised to becoming an economic driver. It also builds on the large critical mass of activity around medical technology. More than 200 companies in the Sheffield City Region feed into this global market worth a projected £300bn.”

Jobs? Up to 940. Cost? The former Labour politician, an architect of the 1991 World Student Games, estimated it at one-fifth of converting the Olympic Stadium for new sports uses, about £40m. Even so, he admitted they were only his figures and had been “drawn up on the back of a fag packet”.

Where would the money come from? There are potential national sources covering sport, education, health and economic development.

One of the driving forces of the Caborn Plan, he said, was the support and encouragement coming from both Sheffield universities, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, the Local Enterprise Partnership, the trust behind the University Technical College and Sport England, all of whom have financial clout.

One source, though, will not be the council, which has prompted the closure of Don Valley by withdrawing an annual £700,000 subsidy.

The next step is a feasibility study backed by the council. At present, said Mr Caborn and the council, it was essentially about ideas.

There is a way ahead - but with significant hurdles.