Chimney sculptures at Tinsley Towers site need a rethink after £4m funding bid is rejected

An artist's impression showing the sculpture trail in its entirety. Illustration: Ella Worthington
An artist's impression showing the sculpture trail in its entirety. Illustration: Ella Worthington

The creation of a mile-long trail of monumental chimneys in Sheffield to replace the demolished Tinsley cooling towers will be subject to a rethink after the project lost out on a £4 million bid.

Last autumn sculptor Alex Chinneck revealed his designs for Onwards & Upwards, the city's biggest-ever piece of public art - a series of 100ft red-brick chimney stacks along the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal, starting close to the M1 flyover near Meadowhall.

Alex Chinneck on the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal. Picture: Scott Merrylees

Alex Chinneck on the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal. Picture: Scott Merrylees

Chinneck was commissioned in 2016 by the council, which says the project has already secured £1m including £450,000 in sponsorship from Eon, the energy firm that owned the towers and runs the nearby Blackburn Meadows Power Station.

But the Sheffield City Region lodged a further bid for a share of the Government's £15m Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund, to fast-track the sculptures' full arrival in 2019, coinciding with the canal's bicentenary. Up to £4 million was potentially available; in Sheffield, the money would also have paid for additions such as a café and visitor centre.

Blackpool, Bradford and the Lake District have emerged as the winning applicants. It is understood Onwards & Upwards will now be delivered more slowly on a phased basis, with the first sculpture closest to the M1 bridge - an illuminated chimney with a 'cracked' appearance - built for 2019, and the other three artworks following in subsequent years, as and when more investment can be raised. The extra elements may be dropped.

The remaining sculptures comprise a 'hovering' chimney with an upper section that appears to float; two leaning chimneys standing 45 metres apart that bridge the canal; and a curving chimney tied into a knot.

The first sculpture - a 'cracked' chimney, illuminated from within - could now be built first with the others following in later years

The first sculpture - a 'cracked' chimney, illuminated from within - could now be built first with the others following in later years

In Bradford, £4m will be used to help turn the former Bradford Odeon cinema into a 4,000 capacity live music, entertainment and events venue. Nearly £3.3m will 'enhance the visitor experience' at cultural attractions across the Lake District, and £4m has been allocated to open a museum in Blackpool celebrating the town’s history as the UK’s first mass seaside holiday resort. The Government says it will set up an initiative providing access to finance for the cultural sector and creative industries in the north of England.

Coun Mary Lea, cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure at Sheffield Council, said: “While the decision not to fund our project is disappointing, the work to realise this artwork for the benefit of the entire region goes on. We have already secured more than £1m from our partners and will continue to explore every option to bring this unique project to fruition.”

Sir Nigel Knowles, chair of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “I’d like to offer my congratulations to those projects which have been selected. We share in their ambition to place the north at the forefront of arts and culture in the UK, and look forward to seeing the resulting artworks come to fruition. Meanwhile, we will continue to develop Sheffield City Region’s cultural offer to the UK and the world. Onwards & Upwards has already demonstrated its potential to attract interest and investment, and we are still working to maximise the enormous opportunity it represents for local communities, for the city region, and as a gateway to the north.”

Chinneck said: “Investment in art and culture can be transformative for places, so I’m pleased for the winning projects and I hope I get the chance to visit them once completed. What we are trying to do in Tinsley is something extremely ambitious and utterly extraordinary. That isn't about to change.”