New neighbourhood for Sheffield students is helping to revive city centre living
"We're effectively creating a new suburb," says Nick Beecroft.
The director of HLM Architects in Sheffield is watching builders come and go at the Hollis Croft development - a Â£62.5 million expanse of student housing and commercial space in an area of the city crammed with new accommodation schemes.
Catering for 972 students in nine apartments, 299 studios and 661 cluster flats across 35,000 sq m, the project was designed by HLM for Brookfield Student Real Estate. It has an 18-storey tower as its centrepiece and sits in the historic St Vincent's Quarter close to Sheffield University.
Next door, a separate developer is leading the Â£19m Steel City venture which will bring 324 rooms and involves the restoration of a listed 'little mesters' metal trades workshop, while the disused St Vincent's Church is being renovated as the focus of a further scheme.
Clearly land is sought after - and the watchword is 'location', says Nick, a founding director of the Sheffield Property Association with 38 years' experience. The Hollis Croft site, off Broad Lane, is minutes away from City Hall, Leopold Square, John Lewis and other popular spots, but feels like its own, distinct enclave.
"It's city centre, without being right in the middle of the retail," he says.
The Star is focusing on the mission of the SPA – which aims to be the ‘collective voice of property in Sheffield’ – through a series of features looking at major schemes. In each case, members – a diverse group including developers, both city universities, planning consultants, solicitors and commercial agents – are making a contribution in a professional capacity.
Hollis Croft comprises three buildings, in a roughly L-shaped arrangement, and will be completed in 2019. The tower takes the place of a factory on Garden Street once occupied by Footprint Tools, which has moved elsewhere.
"They needed more up-to-date premises," says Nick. "The area was, traditionally, lots of little workshops and businesses."
A decade ago things had changed. "It was a dead zone. There was nothing here."
Flats will create a different atmosphere, it is predicted - the ground floors will have space for a supermarket, cafés and bars in units that will be rented out to operators.
Nick points towards the old West Bar police station nearby, where celebrity chef Marco Pierre White has a restaurant close to a gym. "That's the sort of stuff that will continue up here, hopefully. That's the plan."
While Hollis Croft is being marketed to undergraduates, Nick thinks at least some of Sheffield's student accommodation will 'morph' into privately-rented flats if the market changes, a possibility HLM's designs have factored in. "It makes sense to give your client the ultimate flexibility. This is a huge development, you don't want to be stuck with it empty on your hands because suddenly students don't want to live here."
Young professionals who have resided in the city centre as students will be increasingly unwilling to relocate to the city's outskirts, he suggests. "You don't want to move out to Totley or wherever."
Nick's mother used to run the now-demolished Tapton Hall of Residence, in Crookes, which dated from the 1960s and was typical of its day. Students were served food in a canteen, drank in a bar on the ground floor and lived in small, basic rooms off shared corridors.
"Student accommodation is not some raucous den of iniquity any more, it's a much more professional, very studious environment," he says. "These kids are paying a lot of money to come and learn."
Study spaces are a common feature in new buildings, ensuring students can work without being stuck in their bedrooms, says architect Moinak Basu who handled the designs for HLM. "We take a lot of care when we're designing social spaces. There are things like a movie room on site, and the landscaping is integral to allow people to spend time outside, have a break and socialise."
There will be 'loads of little courtyard spaces' at Hollis Croft, says Nick, and the council was consulted on creating routes through the site, along with ways of restoring the old street pattern, which was partly lost after the industrial revolution. "You get through the scheme, you don't have to walk round it. These things can just become big walls if you're not careful."
Architecturally, the exterior design sticks to the 'old vernacular' - red brick - to 'respect the history of the area, rather than bringing in chrome, steel and cladding.'
The SPA has just finished its first year and is going well, Nick believes. Its 46 members include big players such as British Land and Urban Splash, owners of Meadowhall and Park Hill respectively. "We're starting to work together more. It's cemented a lot of really good relationships. For me it's a win-win situation - it's all about the city, and it's quite good for our business as well."
Links have been established with the city centre Business Improvement District and Chamber of Commerce, while the council asked for the association's input on its 10-year masterplan.
"Business-minded people can put their experience and input into the council's development; I think it's really good," says Moinak.
Hollis Croft gained planning permission in 2016 and pre-dates the SPA, but will have helped HLM greatly, as the details were listed in the brochure distributed by Sheffield at the MIPIM property conference in Cannes. "It's not often you get 1,000 beds being built in the city like this," Nick says.