Consultation on Castle Site Concept Plans
· The reduction in density and height of proposed development and increased amounts of public and green space are positive
· The overall landscape approach of several distinctive green spaces and incorporation of water management and ‘Grey to Green’ features are welcomed
· However, there is no mention of bio-diversity gain or habitat restoration particularly for the river and the illustration of fish passage and channel softening even the full opening up of the river is vague and, we understand very vulnerable to cost savings. This loss would have implications for the restoration of the whole Sheaf catchment and is unacceptable.
· There’s no mention of Sheffield’s ‘Outdoor City’ ambitions as referenced in the original bid. Accommodation for canoeing and fishing in the river and bouldering and skateboarding in the park should we believe feature in proposals.
· There is no indication of which of the public spaces will be fully accessible for wheelchair users.
· passage of the weir for kayakers and space for other active sports;
· clear indication of disability access routes.
More Detailed Comments
The Trust welcomes the opportunity to make the following more detailed comments on these Concept Plans but wishes to make clear that the plans to date have not included any genuine co-production with ourselves or other partners as promised at the outset of the project in 2021.
a) There are a number of positive features in the proposals. These include the proposed ratio of built form to green and public space for which the Trust has argued and is now much improved.
b) The removal of several tall structures as shown in the original LUF Concept and the replacement by relatively low-rise perimeter blocks is welcomed and suggests a more contextual streetscape for the historic area.
c) The requirement for active frontages to the upper green event space is welcome although presumably some active frontage is also desirable on Waingate and Exchange St frontages.
d) However, there is no commitment to further archaeological investigation to accompany significant earth moving. On the Opportunities Plan an ‘optional’ Plot 4 appears as quite a large additional site potentially building over the significant castle remains in the former Upper Loading Bay. On other plans this is shown as an open terrace overlooking the river. This needs further clarification/consistency as it has major implications for significant archaeology.
e) The extreme level changes across the site, complicated by the archaeological remains and the river, are intelligently handled and could create a series of distinctive spaces.
f) However, there is no indication of which of the routes and spaces are going to be wheelchair accessible, particularly as regards access to the riverside, an issue the Trust has raised previously.
g) There are promising indications of how sustainable surface water management could be integrated with the heritage features such as the moat and to extend the multi-functional and low maintenance features of the Grey to Green corridors.
h) The plans are described as resting on six ‘Design Pillars’ – Sustainability, Connectivity, Health and Wellbeing, Historical/Cultural, Art/Events and Skills and Development. Whilst we welcome all these, we are very concerned that Bio-Diversity, River Restoration and the Outdoor City are not included although they were prominent in the original LUF bid document and raised at early workshops. They are surely of equal importance. ‘Sustainability’ whilst a vital and pre-eminent goal, does not adequately convey them.
i) Whilst the river is shown as de-culverted, the actual treatment of the ‘Waterspace’ is very diagrammatic with only a couple of vague labels. It does not include any examples of fish passage, canoe access, habitat improvement,
channel naturalisation or maintenance of the bat habitat in the Megatron, all issues which our representatives and the Environment Agency have been flagging with the council team for several months. These features are also we believe vulnerable to cost cutting
j) The modern Castle Orchard Weir is over two metres in height and presents an almost insuperable barrier for fish, eels and mammals to enter the entire Sheaf catchment which includes the Porter, Meersbrook, Old Hay, Abbey, Totley, Graves Park and Limb Brooks. With North Atlantic Salmon – a keystone species – as well as Otter now returning to the Don in central Sheffield for the first time in 200 years this should be a much more definite and well-illustrated feature. We believe the omission of a fish pass at the weir would seriously undermine the multiple re-naturalisation initiatives being implemented on all the above rivers such as weir removal, lightwells and channel restoration.
k) If the fish pass has been down-played or omitted for cost reasons, we suggest this should be urgently reviewed together with all funding opportunities. If the opportunity of providing a fish pass within the current scheme is not taken, then it is likely to be much more expensive and complex to do it at a later stage. Its omission will also almost certainly attract an objection from the Environment Agency which will waste time this project does not have.
l) A highly innovative proposal from consultee the Wild Trout Trust suggests a bypass fish channel which would actually flow through the new park, providing an engaging and naturalistic solution (which could possibly also be kayaked) - reproduced below. This has apparently been discarded on cost grounds (£300k -£500k). We are advised this is because the original LUF approved budget for the Castle site has been cut by £2.3m without discussion or explanation. Other less attractive, but more conventional and also much cheaper, options are also available.
m) There is also no mention of safe access to the river for fishing, kayaking or other sports even though the original LUF submission spoke of making the space a symbol of ‘the Outdoor City in the Inner City’. The indicative level of the
riverside area is 2m below Castlegate footway, which is 1.5m above the current normal water level upstream of the existing weir and considerably more below. This level difference together with the approximately 1m depth of water in the channel would offer little opportunity for engagement with the water as suggested on some of the illustrations and would likely require a guardrail along the riverside wall.
The rather crude 3D visualisation in the exhibition obscures this reality by including human figures at very exaggerated scale, apparently dipping their toes in the water. The typical cross section also suggests this. We strongly request that a more realistic annotated concept drawing of the treatment of the river is required before any sign-off of the Concept Plan with imaginative exemplars of channel restoration prepared by now
n) Similarly, there is also no indication of any space for a climbing wall or continuation of the successful but temporary skate street on Exchange Street which would probably have to go under current servicing and Grey to Green proposals.
o) There is no suggestion of how access on foot into the Megatron culverts is to be discouraged or any response to the tricky issue of conserving the habitat of its bat colony or even that these elements are included in the project.
p) The proposal for vehicle servicing for the development plots 1, 2 and 3 and 4a, 4b etc is proposed to be from frontages on Exchange St and Castlegate (now part of the Grey to Green linear park). Both of these are now well-used pedestrianised spaces and used for other activities which might not be compatible with daytime servicing. We suggest that either:
i) On street servicing should be limited to night times only as on Fargate; or
ii) perhaps better, an alternative route to the basement level of the buildings using the potential bridge over the river from the lower end of Exchange St. The reuse of the existing precast culvert beams that span over the culvert, could perhaps be investigated for this purpose as at Manchester’s new Mayfield Park. This route would also provide for convenient construction access avoiding damage to the Castlegate Grey to Green terrace, as previously recommended by our engineers.
q) The plans show the demolition of the retail unit on Castlegate (sometimes known as the Hydroponics Shop). Apart from being a characterful modernist structure the unit also offers the only opportunity for further animation of the site’s Don riverside frontage at street level. It is in fair repair and has attracted much commercial interest. We are not convinced that the added connectivity of this quite steep route - probably stepped only - justifies its loss and significant additional cost as the route is more or less duplicated by other entrances from Waingate and Castlegate
r) The proposals for Public Art on this plan are not easy to understand. ‘Rubble Towers’ are shown on top of both the exposed areas of ruins. Are these intended as a form of symbolic reconstruction? This requires much more explanation. A number of new ‘heritage structures with a hidden trail’ are shown in the Riverside
Park ‘. Looking at the example image this looks like completely the wrong location for any such features, complicating an area which has no castle remains and is elsewhere proposed as an event space.
s) The plans are unclear about what happens to the retaining walls around the former Meat and Fish Market plinth except for that on Castlegate where a
timeline/strata feature on the existing concrete retaining wall and a Gateway Interpretation of Castle on a new one by the river are proposed. We are not convinced that the bush-hammered concrete finish of the existing wall is suited to that treatment which could perhaps be more easily applied to other sections of the old market retaining walls which are smooth brickwork. Some of these are marked as ‘Wall Work’ but what this means is not at all clear. The Castlegate retaining wall could perhaps accommodate climbing walls? The Graffiti Opportunity at the back of the Market Tavern should perhaps be re-labelled as ‘street art opportunity’?
t) The plans should draw more attention to the presence of Exchange Place Studios, as ready public access to this facility from Sheaf Fields would allow direct interaction with working artists – therefore a bridge link to Exchange Street must be a high priority and might also allow some light vehicle servicing of the site.
u) The concept plans make no reference to the use of contemporary technology such as augmented reality to bring to life the lost or hidden heritage and natural environment of the site, despite many available examples and a wealth of technical expertise in this field in Sheffield and in the partnership. This could go well beyond the Castle history to embrace layers of more recent hidden social histories.
Sheaf and Porter Rivers Trust