Special Report: What can we do to improve our gateways?

Sheffield Stock pic taken from roof of Wilkos River Don towards Wicker Arches
Sheffield Stock pic taken from roof of Wilkos River Don towards Wicker Arches

Sheffield has some iconic sights and landmarks along the arteries into the city, writes Alex Moore

What’s the first thing you see during your approach to the city that makes you think ‘Ah, now I’m in Sheffield’?

Traffic and parking around Hillsborough Primary School.

Traffic and parking around Hillsborough Primary School.

Is it the green roof of Meadowhall, Attercliffe’s forges or the Wicker arches?

Could it be Hillsborough Stadium, the Shalesmoor tram stops or the Kelham Island Tavern?

Perhaps it’s the terraces of Heeley, the swooping curves of Gleadless Valley or the bustle of Chesterfield Road.

Or maybe it’s Dore and Totley’s wide and green streets, or the multiculturalism of London Road.

Huge developments are either planned, under construction or recently completed on many of the key arterial routes.

Whether you live or work in Sheffield or are visiting for the first time, it’s these gateways that so often form impressions of what the city has to offer. And these views can of course be both positive and negative.

Cranes are often heralded as a sign a city is doing well. So by that benchmark Sheffield is undoubtedly on the rise. Huge developments are either planned, under construction or recently completed on many of the key arterial routes.

Drivers arriving from the north east, for example, now face a blue and yellow behemoth as they leave the M1. Ikea opened last month to much fanfare - and few of the predicted traffic problems.

This view - once one of industry thanks to the now-demolished Tinsley cooling towers - will soon be almost unrecognisable from its depiction in The Full Monty 20 years ago.

Meadowhall’s £300 million extension, featuring an undulating lattice glass roof, will contrast against a new set of four brick towers, designed by sculptor artist Alex Chinneck.

Should funding be secured, they could be under the permanent gaze of the Steel Man sculpture designed to be South Yorkshire’s answer to the Angel of the North.

Further development is taking place to the south of the city, with a £35 million retail park on Bochum Parkway taking shape alongside the Graves Leisure Centre and FA football hub complex.

The north western side of the city is also changing. Fox Valley in Stocksbridge has been transformed from a steelworks site typical of Sheffield’s past into a modern out-of-town retail centre, and more national names are arriving as footfall increases. Hundreds of new homes are due to be built in Deepcar and Oughtibridge.

Towards the city centre - via Abbeydale Road, London Road, or on the Midland Mainline - more cranes are helping shape Sheffield’s new skyline.

The first students are now living in New Era Square, the Chinatown development that will also comprise private rented flats, shops and restaurants. Huge student flat complexes in Ecclesall Road have been granted planning permission. And to the north Kelham Island, the new St Vincent’s quarter and Shalesmoor are all the focus of construction companies hoping to ride the residential wave.

Efforts are also being made to renaturalise the city’s waterways, with recent evidence showing otters thriving in the River Don.

But student flats and new shops do not hide some of the problems that can also be seen on Sheffield’s gateways. Tackling inequality is one of the council’s stated aims, and the geographical differences between the city’s various neighbourhoods can be stark.

Contrast the drive from the Peak District through Dore, Totley and Beauchief, for example, with the approach that takes in Burngreave and Spital Hill. Wide grassy verges and tidy, colourful gardens versus broken windows and litter. Quirky coffee shops set against graffiti on boarded up windows.

That’s not to pass judgement on the people of either community. But there is work to be done to tackle issues such as antisocial behaviour and fly-tipping - as well as more serious problems including drug addiction and homelessness.

Development is not always seen as a positive, either.

Campaigners are fighting various proposals on Sheffield’s outskirts in an attempt to stop urbanisation and industrialisation of the green space ‘The Outdoor City’ is so keen to shout about.

From plans for new service stations along the M1 in the north east to biomass boilers and contemporary homes to the west, many are worried about the loss of countryside and woodland - and that’s before the felling of roadside trees throughout the city is taken into account.

Environmentalists are equally concerned about the impact further development and more people coming to Sheffield will have on air quality. In Tinsley, for example - where Ikea and Meadowhall are spending their millions - pollution has already led to the closure of two schools.

A key question for the city council and for developers is how to reduce emissions and make every approach cleaner and healthier - be it through electric cars, better cycle infrastructure or greener public transport - and tied in with that is the ever increasing number of cars on the road, adding minutes and hours to journeys into Sheffield.

There is also the issue of rail transport. With Sheffield now due to connect to HS2 via a spur, and the electrification of the Midland Mainline approach from the south off the table, will the rail routes be good enough to attract the right kind of investment to help the city grow?

Sheffield’s gateways show the city’s good and bad sides - so what must be done to improve them?