Council urged to cut backing for regeneration of city flats

Park Hill Flats, Sheffield.
Park Hill Flats, Sheffield.
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LOOMING above Sheffield city centre, the famous “streets in the sky” of Park Hill have provoked controversy since they were built more than 50 years ago.

Some say the Brutalist flats complex should have been demolished, while others celebrate it as an architectural trimph - it was shortlisted for this year’s Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Stirling Prize, last week losing out to Astley Castle in Warwickshire.

But now opposition Liberal Democrat members on Sheffield Council have called for the authority to guarantee no more council money will be spent on an Urban Splash project to transform the ailing flats into desirable city centre apartments.

Lib Dems claim that, when the project was first agreed in 2005, the Labour administration promised that costs would not extend beyond paying council staff’s wages, yet “since then Labour councillors have agreed more than £2.8m of council spend at Park Hill.”

A spokesman for the group said: “The project has struggled with sales and reports led to concerns that yet more council funding could be agreed.

“A new deal has since been struck for future development but local taxpayers’ now want guarantees that the project will not come at no extra cost to the council.”

Coun Penny Baker, Lib Dem spokesman for housing on Sheffield Council, is set to propose banning any further spending on Park Hill at a full meeting of the authority tomorrow.

She said: “It’s impossible to turn back time and reverse the original decision to approve this costly project.

“The best route forward is for the first phase to be completed but local taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to write a blank cheque for the development.

“At a time when the council claimed they’ve been forced to close sports facilities and libraries, it is hard to understand why increased spend on Park Hill has even been given a second’s thought.

“We need to send a clear message that it’s completely unacceptable for yet more council funds to be blown on this vanity project.”

Only around two thirds of the 78 completed flats at Park Hill are currently occupied, after going on sale two years ago.

Of the first phase of 78 flats, 52 were available to buy while 26 were available for let through a housing association.

It was announced last week that property management and regeneration company “Places for People” - which previously bought 654 apartments from Urban Splash in a deal worth £77m - had teamed up with the developer to ensure the revamp of Park Hill continues.

David Cowans, chief executive at Places for People said: “We are very pleased to be able to work with Urban Splash, initially on the innovative development of Park Hill in Sheffield, and we will be looking at further opportunities to develop schemes within the Urban Splash and Places for People portfolio in the future.”

Tom Bloxham, chairman of Urban Splash, said the announcement was “great news” and added: “Places for People and Urban Splash have many shared values, and great reputations for regeneration, placemaking and great architecture.”