University gets the edge over critics

Sheffield University's planned new �80 million engineering block on the former Jessop Hospital site.'Pictured is the proposed building at corner of Broad Lane and St George's Terrace.
Sheffield University's planned new �80 million engineering block on the former Jessop Hospital site.'Pictured is the proposed building at corner of Broad Lane and St George's Terrace.

CONTROVERSIAL proposals to demolish part of the old Jessop Hospital to make way for an £80m engineering complex for the University of Sheffield could be given the go-ahead next week.

The balance has tipped significantly in favour of the university as a result of planners concluding that the loss of the Edwardian building is outweighed by the benefit to the university, the city and the region.

It is estimated that the development will generate £44.5m a year in the local economy, create 1,070 jobs, and will promote the engineering faculty as one of the best in the world.

Councillors will be advised on Monday to approve the scheme – but at the same time they will be under pressure from conservationists and others to reject the officers’ advice on the basis that Sheffield cannot to afford to lose any of its listed buildings, and the university should find an alternative location

Planners have accepted the argument that the Edwardian wing cannot be redeveloped, and that possible locations such as the Durham Road car park and sites off Leavygreave Road, between Newcastle Street and Rockingham Street, between Broad Lane and Garden Street and the Mappin courtyard, are unsuitable.

“Officers are satisfied that the only way to deliver the specific requirements of the university’s brief is by demolishing the listed Edwardian building and that no alternative sites were available in the necessary timescales of the right size and location to meet the faculty’s needs,” they say in a report to councillors.

“On balance”, permission should be granted for the site currently occupied by the Edwardian wing of the former Jessop.

“It is stressed that this decision has not been taken lightly, and that the loss of the grade II listed building is very much being treated as exceptional because of the benefits that the New Engineering Building will bring to the university, the faculty of engineering, the city and the economy of the wider region.”

If councillors agree, the application will be passed to the Secretary of State because of the implications for the listed building.

He could order a public inquiry, although this would be unlikely because the Government-backed conservation agency, English Heritage, has indicated it should be a local decision, weighing the conservation and economic arguments.

The council received 63 submissions for and 72 against the proposed five-storey development.

Support for the university has come from the Chamber of Commerce and a number of local businesses.

“This is the most exciting proposal, not only for the future development of the university, but for the city of Sheffield,” says one supporter.

“It will enable the engineering faculty to compete at the very high level.”

Another says: “This project will strengthen the city’s engineering heritage by attracting further investment from major companies, building on the success that Rolls Royce and Boeing have brought to Catcliffe.”

But critics are vehement.

Former Lord Mayor Sylvia Dunkley said: “‘So many of Sheffield’s historic buildings have been swept away on the basis that their demolition is justified by ‘exceptional circumstances’ that it makes one wonder how exceptional the circumstances have to be to ensure their survival. Surely the loss of the Edwardian wing and the way the proposed engineering building will overwhelm the remaining Victorian building is too high a price to pay for claiming ‘exceptional circumstances’ in this case.”

Valerie Bayliss, who chairs the local Victorian Society said: “This is nothing to do with stopping the University’s ambitions. The University has to show that the benefits will outweigh the harm caused by demolition. It’s clear they have failed to properly investigate alternatives. They are hooked on one design and won’t consider any other.”

Planners say it would be a “striking” building, although they are not convinced that it “responds successfully” to its surroundings, especially the Victorian wing of the Jessop, which the University restored.

Yet the economic argument is being given greater weight - “in view of the faculty of engineering’s position as a world leader and their ambitions to be the very best, the inadequacy of their existing accommodation and the need to make swift improvements to benefit from the current opportunities for growth and in the light of the development of the local economy, in particular on the growth of the advanced manufacturing and sustainable technology sectors, which are key to the economic transformation of Sheffield”.