The thorny politics of heritage in Castlegate
Conservation area consultation ‘won’t happen until December 2024’, say council
Good morning readers — and welcome to today’s Tribune.
What is going on down in Castlegate? From cancelled council consultations to successful Levelling Up bids, and councillors being “stepped down” to new towering skyscrapers, over the last few years it’s been difficult to keep track of everything that’s going on in Sheffield’s historic centre. For the second part of our two pieces about the city’s contested heritage, we spoke to four people who have a strong interest in the fascinating but neglected area. And we hear from the man at the centre of the row which exploded last year: Councillor Mazher Iqbal.
So we can take some time off for the bank holiday, we’ll only be putting out one piece this weekend. We’ll be back as normal with our weekly briefing on Monday.
Editor’s note: The first section of this edition is going out to everyone on our list, but if you want to read the full newsletter, you’ll need to join as a paying member.
In last Monday’s briefing, we covered the imminent arrival of the Fargate shipping containers — and now we know when you’ll be able to try them out! The development will have a “soft open” from Monday, June 20 before fully launching on the weekend of Friday, June 24. As well as popular hot dog vendor Get Wurst, the six separate units will feature the Urban Pizza Co., Korean street food stall Yoki and second-hand clothes shop Re-Owned. The occupants of the final two units will be confirmed later this month.
Tuesday’s story about the low traffic neighbourhood in Nether Edge is one of the most popular stories we’ve ever published. However, as we alluded to in the piece, the closure of Archer Lane hasn’t been universally popular with residents. On Wednesday, it was reported that the flower planter bollards introduced as part of the scheme are to be replaced with concrete barriers because they keep getting tipped over. Nether Edge councillor Maroof Raouf told The Star “a minority of people cannot be trusted”.
The ever-popular Peddler Market returns this weekend for a special Queen’s Jubilee bank holiday weekend special. The line-up this month features Sicilian arancini and cannoli from Manchester-based Italian street food specialists Tarricrii and award-winning vegetarian/vegan burgers from Wholesome Junkies. The market is open on Friday from 5pm-11pm and on Saturday from 2pm-11pm. As well as all the food and drink there will also be craft stalls and music and entertainment for all ages across both days.
By Dan Hayes
“I don’t think there is a tension between heritage and development,” Mazher Iqbal tells me over the phone from his office at the Town Hall. It feels, on the face of it, a surprising thing for him to say. For much of the last year, the veteran Darnall councillor has been embroiled in a row about just that; his very future as a councillor under threat after he was accused of riding roughshod over the concerns of council heritage officers in an attempt to make parts of Sheffield city centre more attractive for developers.
A year-long independent investigation eventually found Councillor Iqbal did not breach the members’ code of conduct (although it did find evidence of “day-to-day behaviour” from him and others that councillors called “deeply concerning”, so it didn’t exactly give him a clean bill of health). But the issue that brought the investigation to a head — namely the future of Castlegate, Sheffield’s most historic neighbourhood — hasn’t gone away by any means.
As previously reported by Now Then magazine and others, former council regeneration chief Simon Ogden accused Iqbal of cancelling three council consultations about Castlegate at the last minute, wasting taxpayers’ money and causing council heritage officers to become frustrated and demoralised. One of these consultations (on a proposed conservation area for the historic neighbourhood) was scrapped on the morning it was due to begin on February 21, 2019, a notice appearing on the door of the old Head Post Office on Fitzalan Square saying it had been cancelled at the eleventh hour with no reason for the decision ever being given.
When I spoke to Iqbal last week, I didn’t really want to go over this well-trodden ground — but he insisted. In his telling, to understand why the consultation has been delayed so long you need to go back to 2018, when Sheffield City Council was told it needed to build 44,000 extra homes by the government. Of these, Iqbal says that council officers wanted to build 22,000 on the city’s precious green belt — something that would have been political suicide for the council’s then Labour administration. Iqbal says he was tasked with identifying areas of the city centre where the extra homes could be built instead.
“It wasn’t me saying ‘I don’t want to protect anything’,” he insists. “It was more ‘let’s pause, understand what was happening across the city centre and make an informed decision’.” He says he stands by the decisions he and the council made, the only drawback of which was the (still not carried out) plan to demolish the Old Coroners’ Court on Nursery Street, which he says wasn’t his intention at all. “It was hurtful and I pleaded with them not to do it,” he tells me. “That was a lesson learned for me.”