University of Sheffield challenge as Jessop debate hots up

Jessop Hospital  The Derelict Edwardian Wing
Jessop Hospital The Derelict Edwardian Wing

THE University of Sheffield faces a stiff test over its controversial ambitions to demolish an Edwardian wing of the old Jessop Hospital to make way for an £80m engineering complex.

It has to demonstrate that there are “wholly exceptional” reasons for loss of the listed building, says the Government-backed conservation agency, English Heritage.

A decision on the scheme is due to be made by the council in December, and already English Heritage has made clear the challenge facing the university.

In a letter to the council, it says: “While English Heritage is sympathetic to the University of Sheffield’s aspirations to become a leading engineering faculty, (the) authority must be satisfied that a fully justified case, setting out substantial public benefits, has been made before granting any approval for this scheme.”

Opinions about the university’s proposals for a “landmark” building to replace part of the old maternity hospital are being submitted to the council.

The university says the new engineering complex is vital to its strategy of accommodating more students in state-of-the-art facilities to help enhance an international reputation for engineering.

Critics say Sheffield cannot afford to lose more of its historic buildings, and the university should look for a location elsewhere.

English Heritage says Government policy states that “great weight should be given to the conservation of heritage assets”. At the same time, it accepts the university has explained the “clear public benefits” from the continued development of engineering. These need to be “carefully balanced against the substantial harm to the significance of the Jessop Hospital that would result from this demolition”.

English Heritage is advising the council that unless it is “satisfied that the case set out by the applicants delivers substantial public benefits that outweigh the harm to the significance of the Jessop Hospital which would result from the demolition of the Edwardian wing, this application should be refused on the grounds of non-compliance with the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework”.

Comments made online to the council include one from Dr Tony Crook, a former Pro Vice Chancellor, who led the project to redevelop the Jessop site and is a Fellow of the Royal Town Planning Institute. He says the university has already restored the hospital’s original Victorian building for the Department of Music, conserving “what is important in terms of architecture and memory”.

Conserving the Edwardian building would limit the floorspace and “the ambitions for the engineering at the university which is intimately related to Sheffield’s economic future”.

Dr Crook adds that “it is in the public interest for the university to invest in engineering in order to secure that part of Sheffield’s future that depends on advanced manufacturing, in terms new research that advances innovation and improves productivity and in terms of the education of high quality graduates and postgraduates who stay on and work in the city”.

However, one critic says: “Sheffield has very few fine Edwardian buildings and the city really cannot afford to loose another piece of its history. If demolition is allowed, there is a very real risk that, in time, a whole era of architectural history will be missing from the cityscape.”

In addition, “the proposed building is very futuristic in appearance, yet the location is the exact opposite. It’s closest neighbour is the Victorian wing of the Jessop’s Hospital, which, ironically, has been restored by the university with great care, whilst directly opposite sits the former St George’s church, another fine Victorian construction. Although investment by the university is to be welcomed, this application must be rejected.”

l Jessop debate continues next week in the Sheffield Telegraph.