Scheme for ‘monolithic’ student village in city faces criticism

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A STUDENT village with almost 880 beds over 10 storeys, as well as bars and cafes, could be built on the site of a former car showroom in Sheffield.

Robinson Architects has submitted plans for the development of the 175 student flats on a derelict site in Summerfield Street – close to Ecclesall Road – which has remained empty since Gordon Lamb Ltd shut down some years ago.

If the scheme were to go ahead, the developer would give £1m to Sheffield Council to be used to provide affordable housing elsewhere in the city. The project would also involve creating a new riverside walk on a section of the Porter Brook which is currently closed off.

However, despite saying a successful development on the site would “bring significant benefits to the immediate locality”, city planners have recommended that councillors refuse planning permission at a meeting next Monday, December 19.

Planning officials say that there are “some significant benefits to the scheme that would be welcomed, particularly at a time of little economic activity in the city”, but the impact of a huge block of flats on views down Summerfield Street would be unacceptable.

The planners’ report, which will be considered by council members on Monday, says: “The current proposal is a very dense scheme with large scale buildings of up to 10 storeys, and predominantly eight storeys.

“In general terms, officers are content that the increases in height, whilst not insignificant, are acceptable except for the area along Napier Street, particularly around its junction with Summerfield Street, as this element of the scheme is seen in prominent views down Summerfield Street.

“Given the immediately surrounding context of largely small-scale buildings, the presence of an unbroken eight-storey block on this prominent corner will dominate views along Summerfield Street to the north and appear out of character with its immediate context.

“The building form does not respond to the topography and surrounding context and is considered to be of too large a scale to be comfortably accommodated at this point.”

Councillors, however, could choose to grant planning permission for the development at Monday’s meeting, or else defer the application for further negotiations to take place between the authority and the developer.

The Sheffield Sustainable Development and Design Panel has been consulted on the plans twice, and has said that it has “significant reservations” over the use of one single point of pedestrian access, in Napier Street, which “seemed to increase walk distances.”

The Sheffield Conservation Advisory Group, meanwhile, said it was in favour of plans to extend the walkway along the Porter Brook. However, the group described the design as “monolithic” and said the development would “partially obscure or impact on views of the Anglican Chapel of the General Cemetery.”

A total of 19 letters of objection to the plans have also been received from members of the public.

One opponent to the scheme said the area is “already saturated with students”, while another said what is instead needed is “quality flats for private occupation.”

Other objectors said that the accommodation is unnecessary as “increased student fees will result in less students”; the blocks would be “out of character with predominantly office and private residential accommodation” and the development would “overpower neighbouring buildings.”

The development was also described by one member of the public as being “ugly and unimaginative.”

In their report to councillors, city planners cite many benefits of the “very substantial” scheme and say they have tried to “work with the applicant in order to try to overcome the issues.”

Monday’s planning committee meeting begins at 2pm at Sheffield Town Hall.