'Save neglected old town hall'

PLANNERS and council bosses have come under fire after an architecture charity included Sheffield's old town hall in a national top 10 list of shame for Victorian buildings at risk.

The imposing stone structure, which most recently served as a law court, stands on the corner of Waingate and Castle Street in Sheffield city centre. It has stood empty for over 10 years and is falling into disrepair.

Now its plight has been picked up by the Victorian Society, a national charity which campaigns to save "quality architecture" from between 1837 and 1914.

Dr Ian Dungavell, director of the society, said yesterday: "It is vital that a good new use is found for Sheffield's old town hall. The building is a significant landmark which should be at the heart of Sheffield life.

"The longer it is left empty the harder it will be to bring back into use. We have seen the potential of buildings like the old town hall to contribute to regeneration schemes and usually all that is needed is a little imagination.

"We urge Sheffield Council to take the lead and bring this prominent building back into use for the community it was built to serve."

The top 10 list of "endangered buildings" was drawn up by the society after it launched a search for the nation's best Victorian buildings that had been left to go to rack and ruin.

Historians, local enthusiasts and campaigners were asked to scour their local areas and come up with photographs and details of any good quality Victorian or Edwardian buildings at risk that they found.

The old town hall was completed in 1808 by architect Charles Watson and remodelled in 1866 by Sheffield firm Flockton and Abbott, which added the central clock tower to the structure.

But it then became too small and a new town hall was built at the end of Fargate, while the old building was converted again to become Sheffield Crown Court and High Court until they moved in the late 1990s.

Yesterday council head of planning Les Sturch said: "The city council welcomes the high profile the Victorian Society has given to what it is calling the Old Town Hall, which is actually Sheffield's former Crown Courts.

"It is a significant civic building, which is listed, and is an important landmark in the Castlegate area of the city centre. It has been in private ownership since 1998 and we have been in discussions with several developers about proposals for the building.

"Permission was granted for its conversion to a nightclub and offices in 2001. However, this proposal was not pursued. The council is in discussions with the current owners with a view to securing a viable future for the former Crown Courts building."

The old town hall is not the only building in South Yorkshire to be officially at risk. Keppel's Column, on the edge of the Wentworth Estate in Rotherham, is one of 21 buildings in the county on the English Heritage "at risk" register.

And last July Wicker Arches at Sheffield were included on the register for the first time, with experts saying the structure required 1m of repairs because of the theft of stone parapets and "poor maintenance".