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Another perspective

It’s always healthy to present contrasting opinions….

The short-sightedness of people when it comes to our built environment never ceases to amaze me.  Take Sheffield’s Castle Market complex. Designed by the local authority architects, it answered a brief to fit a large new market onto a small site by going up – several floors of market stalls, with an open centre, streets in the sky, and office accommodation.  Opened in the early Sixties it thrived for two decades until the council started to cut back on funding and maintenance in the Eighties.  By the end of the twentieth century it was looking worn and neglected, and the council had already got it in the back of their mind that they wanted it down. People still refused to stop shopping here, there had after all been a market in this area for 700 years. In the end the council started to end leases, and built an awful new market building right across the city, then forced the remaining traders out of business.

The new hall is dreadful, glitzy bits of surface decoration on an otherwise empty void, with a few stalls clustered together in the centre looking lost.  And they couldn’t even fill those. Despite a campaign amongst people who know about such things, and the offer of help, advice and solutions to refurbish the original market buildings, the council – who made much of how neglected the site was (forgetting to add that this was their fault) voted to have it down.  They refuse to tell anyone how much the demolition would cost, but admitted the quotes were half a million more than they expected.  They had also done an additional half a million pounds worth of deliberate damage to the building to assess the condition of the structure – before they’d even voted on what to do with it! And it was a close run vote, just one councillor tipping the balance for bringing it down. So any idea of a thriving independent rent controlled shopping centre was out the window and the bulldozers moved in.

English Heritage?  Didn’t want to know, despite this being a totally unique example of a C20 market hall packed with loads of interesting, high quality fixtures and fitting.  Check out the hand made earthenware tiles on one facade.  The demolition contractors must be delighted with the acres of teak handrails which sell for a small fortune. What now for the site?  The council have plans for an urban park, access to some tatty remains of the former castle, and a Disney-esque recreation of the castle keep to ‘regenerate’ the area (come in Banksy).

There is a near complete Norman castle just a few miles up the country, which is mostly empty when I visit and has done nothing to regenerate the local area there. They applied for a grant for all this but were laughed out of the Heritage Lottery offices.  So there is no funding, the site will remain a wasteland, and we all know they’ll sell it off as soon as people have forgotten about it. While all this was going on some locals published a book celebrating Sheffield’s post-war modernist ambitions and surviving architecture of the 50s and 60s.  A time when councillors were willing to listen to people with vision and knowledge, and regeneration actually meant something.

Henry Rawlinson

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