A legal challenge was signalled this week over the proposed demolition of the Edwardian wing of the former Jessop Hospital.
National charity SAVE, which is dedicated to saving Britain’s heritage, said it was prepared to take the council to court to halt the clearance of the site to make way of an £80m engineering complex for the University of Sheffield.
It believes the council breached national planning guidelines in ruling that the perceived public benefits outweighed the loss of a listed building, with SAVE seeing Jessop as a test case.
The charity said it hoped the university would reassess its stance that it is not practical to convert the Edwardian wing as part of developing a world-class engineering department.
“There are a huge number of conservation architects who could would come forward with suggestions,” said director Clem Cecil.
The protest campaign was backed by local groups such as the Victorian Society and the Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society, and SAVE argues that the loss of the “handsome” building “flies in the face of robust advice” and gives priority to temporary factors such as job creation over the permanent detriment to Sheffield’s heritage.
It says it wants to resolve the issues without going through the legal process, but it has sent a letter to the council indicating it is prepared to seek a judicial review of the council decision in favour of the university.
“We felt strong enough to go ahead even though there are risks,” said Ms Cecil. “We have an excellent legal team.
“We were contacted by local campaigners and we could tell it is a very important case, and a bit of a test case for national planning policy.”
It could take months for any case to be heard by a judge, delaying demolition.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles could have called a public inquiry into the proposed loss of a listed building, but he was content for the decision to be taken at local level. Councillors had to assess the university’s application a second time because not all amenity societies had been consulted.
The university insists it examined potential alternatives to demolition, and looked at other locations, but the preferred choice was the best for the university, the city and the region.
*The University of Sheffield has overtaken the University of Cambridge for engineering research income, confirming the institution as a world-leader in the field, it said this week.
Data compiled by the Higher Education Statistics Agency shows that Sheffield’s engineering research income of £46m surpassed that of Cambridge by almost 10% in 2012/13.
Pro-Vice-Chancellor Prof Mike Hounslow said it was “an important measure of excellence” and, alongside the investment in the new engineering building, “demonstrates that the University of Sheffield is a truly exceptional prospect for engineering students of the future”.