‘Once every Sheffield flood’
Plus, a great new book about growing up in Sheffield in the 1960s
Good afternoon readers — and welcome to your Monday briefing. We hope you all managed to stay safe and reasonably dry despite the torrential rain. I was out in it yesterday taking a look at water levels in the River Don, and our big story below focuses on the fallout from the floods.
Today we look at another narrow escape for the city and what is being done to prevent flooding from happening in the future. We also feature a piece about a great new book about growing up in Sheffield in the 1960s and recommend what sounds like a fantastic new play at the Crucible.
Catch up and coming up
Thanks to everyone who shared, liked and commented on our writer Jack Walton's great weekend read about those helped by Sheffield English language learning service SAVTE. You can still read that piece here.
Last week we sent out two great stories to our ever-expanding group of 593 paying members. The first was a humorous piece about a recent visit I made to an unusual “Philosophy in Pubs” session at the Millowners Arms in Kelham Island. And the second was an in-depth look at whether the divisive technology of fracking might be brought back to South Yorkshire and Derbyshire.
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This week’s weather
Our weather forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who say conditions will “stay mixed and windy throughout the week with sunshine and showers”.
Monday 🌦 Early rain and stormy winds ease to sunshine. Mild with highs of 10°C.
Tuesday 🌦 A cold front decays south bringing a wet and windy spell of weather before another clearance to brighter skies. Highs of 10°C.
Wednesday ⛅️ A respite day, though breezy, with bright spells and cloud. Highs of 8°C.
Thursday 🌦 cooler with early rain and hill snow clearing to blustery showers. Highs of 6°C.
Friday ⛅️ fewer showers with many more staying dry. Still rather chilly and breezy with highs of 7°C.
The big story: ‘Once every Sheffield flood’
Top line: Parts of Sheffield found themselves underwater yesterday for the second time in just over two years. What should we do to protect ourselves against more frequent flooding?
Storm Franklin: Sheffield was hit by its third storm in four days on Sunday, raising the water in many of the city’s rivers to dangerous levels.
Rivers burst their banks in several parts of the city and flood defences were put in place at Meadowhall as a precaution.
More widespread flooding took place in Rotherham and many areas of Doncaster were still on high alert on Monday.
Background: In November 2019, a month’s worth of rain fell in 36 hours causing serious flooding in Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster. And 15 years ago in 2007, Sheffield was hit by devastating floods which caused the deaths of two people and £30m worth of damage.
Defences: After 2007, millions of pounds was spent on flood defences to protect Sheffield city centre. Thankfully, in 2019 and again yesterday, these defences largely held. However, Liz Ballard from the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust said more efforts need to be made to retain the water upstream rather than simply shift it elsewhere.
[It is] flooding now in Rotherham town centre as the water quickly channels through Sheffield with nowhere to go. Our sites like [Rotherham nature reserves] Centenary Riverside and Woodhouse Washlands will be inundated. We need way more natural storage areas.
Natural flood defences: As well as the flood walls and barriers in Sheffield city centre, efforts have been made to install natural flood defences in the city. Several of these are already in use in Sheffield, both in the city centre and in upland areas.
City centre: The Grey to Green project in Sheffield city centre is a good example of a flood defence that tries to trap water in the landscape rather than merely funnel it elsewhere. Through innovative design, streets can be made to act like a sponge, slowing water runoff into the River Don.
Upland: In the hills above the city, the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust are working with landowners to create natural flood defences. These include “leaky dams” which slow down water flow as well as fencing off areas to stop them being damaged by animals and protecting peat bogs.
Moorland burning: However, despite all the work of the wildlife trust, the regular burning of the moors for grouse shooting makes their job much harder. The burning exposes peat bogs to erosion, washing it into rivers and leaving the land bare and unable to absorb any water.
Broomhill and Sharrow Vale Green Party councillor Angela Argenzio yesterday said it was “complete madness” to allow the continued burning of peat bogs above Sheffield and then try to “put a plaster on down stream”.
Bottom line: The phrase “once every Sheffield flood” was once used to indicate something that didn't happen very often. The fact that two storms have happened in less than two and a half years is something that rightly concerns policy makers. Efforts to create natural flood defences have been successful but better ways to manage the moors are also required.
Home of the week
There are currently nine properties for sale at the “new” Park Hill flats near Sheffield city centre. This one-bedroom flat in Phase 2 of the complex is on the market for £175,000.
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Cases: In the week to last Tuesday, February 15, the Covid case rate in Sheffield (the number of positive cases per 100,000 people over seven days) was down 1,077 cases or 33.7% to 359, its lowest since December. The England average was 476.9 (down 32.6%).
Hospitals: As of last Tuesday, there were 120 patients being treated for Covid-19 in the city’s hospitals, a fall of 85 from the previous week. Just two of these patients required critical care. At least six deaths linked to the virus took place in the city in the last week.
Rules: It is widely expected that the government will today announce that all legal Covid restrictions are over. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will host a press conference with Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance tonight at 7pm.
Our favourite reads
A nice in-depth interview in Now Then with journalist and broadcaster Jon Ronson ahead of his appearance at Sheffield City Hall in April. The show will be about his latest BBC podcast Things Fell Apart which looks at how our current “culture wars” began, bringing it to life on stage with personal anecdotes and even a mystery guest.
A fascinating review in The Spectator of Sheffield-born novelist Robert Edric’s memoir of growing up in 1960s Sheffield. In a career stretching back to the 1980s Edric has become a well-known writer of historical fiction, but this autobiographical work focuses on his incredibly tough upbringing at the hands of his bullying father.
Two stories in Yorkshire Live from Sheffield’s local democracy reporters about the huge backlog for repairs that has developed in schools and council houses. Molly Williams reports there is a backlog of 8,000 jobs in the city’s council homes while Lucy Ashton’s story says it would take 12 years to repair all the faults in our schools.
Sad news in Press Gazette that former Sheffield Star editor Colin Brannigan has died aged 84. The Lancashire-born Brannigan ran the paper from 1968 to 1978 after joining as a sub-editor in the 1960s and was described as a “pioneering giant” by those who worked with him. He was awarded an OBE for services to journalism in 1993.
A great piece in The Sunday Times about the JustEat food courier strike which The Tribune reported on before Christmas. The walkout has now been going on for three months and has become the longest-running gig economy strike ever. Reporter Hannah Al-Othman speaks to Parirs Dixon who started it all with one WhatsApp message.
The Old Town Hall
Interesting news reported in The Star by business editor David Walsh last Friday that the Old Town Hall has a new owner. A company owned by a property developer called Gunes Ata (also known as Gary Ata) took control of the building on December 23. The building was sold for an unknown fee after a company owned by Sheffield businessmen Efe Omu collapsed.
Mr Ata’s new company is called The Court House Apartments (Sheffield) Ltd, indicating he may be hoping to turn the whole building into accommodation. However, there might be concerns over his suitability as a developer for what is likely to be a massive heritage project on a much-loved building.
Mr Ata also owns Noble Design and Build, which was fined £1,000 in November 2020 for obstructing fire inspectors and £4,500 in July 2018 for processing CCTV data without registering with the data protection watchdog. In January 2021, Mr Ata was also ordered to pay £10,000 to a former staff member for unfair dismissal.
Valerie Bayliss of the Friends of the Old Town Hall told us if he intends to convert the building into apartments it will need a new planning application which they will be watching “like hawks”. She added that they had a meeting with city centre business and development chief Councillor Mazher Iqbal to talk about the building’s future this week.
Our previous piece about the Old Town Hall’s long and complicated history is here.
Things to do
Music: Much-loved orchestra the Manchester Camerata come to the University of Sheffield’s Firth Hall on Thursday, February 24 to perform the sound of 1980s underground New York. Showcasing music by experimental composers Arthur Russell, Philip Glass and Julius Eastman, the acclaimed ensemble’s live performances are renowned for their mesmerising beauty and talent, and for disregarding traditional creative boundaries.
Theatre: On at the Crucible’s studio theatre until Saturday, February 26 is Far Gone, a play about African child soldiers which premiered at Theatre Deli in 2019. Written and performed by John Rwothomack — who was born in Uganda but now lives in Sheffield — it tells the story of Okumu, who is captured and forced to fight in the Lord’s Resistance Army under Joseph Kony. Our Favourite Places have a good review of the play’s original Theatre Deli run here.
Books: Sheffield Libraries’ first-ever graphic novel reading room will be held at the Central Library this Wednesday, February 23, giving comic book fans and newbies alike the chance to chat and socialise with other enthusiasts. Also, author Jason Holyhead who wrote our recent piece about Sheffield artist Conor Rogers has a book out today. Ain’t got a barrel of money is about the rollercoaster ride that was supporting Sheffield United in the 1970s.
Film: Peter Jackson’s eight-hour-long three-part The Beatles: Get Back documentary film has become essential viewing for all fans of the Fab Four, but might be a bit of an endurance test in the cinema. In response, the closing “rooftop concert” section of the film has been cut into a more manageable 60-minute running time and is on at the Showroom Cinema until Thursday, February 24. Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian called it a “towering time capsule”.
Art: The Yorkshire Sculpture Park isn't in Sheffield but it’s only a short 17-mile, half an hour drive up the M1 to Wakefield. As well as the stunning grounds and sculpture trail, at the moment they have an exhibition of drawings of trees by David Nash. Nash is more famous as a sculptor who works with wood and natural materials but here dozens of his preliminary sketches are presented in the park’s (indoor) Weston Gallery. The show runs until June 5.