AS FACELIFTS go, it’s one of the most ambitious ever undertaken, but yesterday a flats complex often derided as one of Yorkshire’s ugliest buildings was given a new chance to shine.
Park Hill flats, which are Grade II* listed and have polarised opinion among people in Sheffield and elsewhere, has dominated the city centre’s skyline for generations.
Seven years ago developers from a Manchester-based company, Urban Splash, took on the mammoth task of turning around what was essentially a failing 50-year-old block of flats, with all the attendant problems.
More than £20m of public money has since been pumped into the £146m project to bring the first phase to completion, but the rest of the scheme relies on buyers coming forward.
Those buyers will be expected to pay £90,000 for a one-bedroom apartment in “flank A” of the remodelled block, with prices for two- and three-bedroom flats yet to be released.
Without buyers’ investment in what Urban Splash believes is a “piece of history” it will be difficult to convert the remaining 800 or so flats in the masterplan.
Yesterday, giving a sneak preview of two show flats which will open to the public on October 8, development manager Mark Latham said he was confident of success.
But he admitted that the “early adopters” of the new Park Hill lifestyle, would in effect be living on a building site for the foreseeable future – possibly more than a decade.
Mr Latham also described the current property market as the worst in living memory, but said Park Hill offered a unique blend of attributes which would make it marketable.
Touring the completed phase, which contains 78 flats, 26 of which have been earmarked for affordable housing under a housing association deal, the attractions of the block are easy to see.
Trams, trains and buses are within easy reach, as is the city centre and the views from the front of the flats towards the Peak District and over the city centre are magnificent.
A new entrance to the estate has been created by punching what architects call a “cut” through one of the walls where lift shafts used to run.
Those lifts have been replaced by glass elevators which run up the side of the block, again allowing spectacular views of the city and beyond.
But to the rear there are hundreds of flats, in blocks which have been vacated by former council tenants, which are boarded up and serve as a reminder of the estate’s troubled past.
Mr Latham said: “We are expecting the apartments to appeal to the traditional city living market. Young professionals and students, but also to so-called downsizers – people who are retiring.
“Yes the pioneers, or early adopters if you like, will be living on a building site to begin with, but most of the work on the other phases will be internal and the building work will speed up as time goes on.”
According to Mr Latham, former tenants of Park Hill would recognise the layout of the newly refurbished flats, which make a virtue of the concrete which has proved such a problem for the development.
English Heritage provided £500,000 to help Urban Splash find a way of stopping the material failing, while £24.8m of cash has been provided by the Government’s Homes and Communities Agency.
Now that all that money has been spent, it is over to the developers to make the project work in the long-term, and that relies on the skills of their salespeople.
Mr Latham added: “We have always felt that Park Hill would be a great place to live again. It has an amazing location, good transport links, and the flats are very generous by contemporary standards.
“There are a number of enviable qualities about the project that have always given us confidence.”
Interested buyers will be able to sign up for their chosen property from October, but will have to wait until autumn 2012 before than can move in.
The first phase also includes space for offices and shops and prices for the units and the larger apartments will be revealed closer to the launch date next month.
Ivor Smith, who worked with another architect Jack Lynn on the original Park Hill recently took a tour of the redevelopment to see the progress being made by Urban Splash in updating their original vision.
He said: “This scheme give real meaning to the word regeneration. It represents a new beginning, a new vitality.
“I sense in those involved the same enthusiasm and excitement that Jack Lynn and I enjoyed half a century ago. It will be a great place to live.”