Sunday20 August 2017

Court of Appeal rules in RMJM's favour

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Conservationists ’lose on facts but win on principle’

The Court of Appeal has ruled that a listed Edwardian hospital can be demolished to make way for an RMJM building for Sheffield university.

Save Britain’s Heritage and the Victorian Society took Sheffield council to court using a £10,000 fighting fund established by supporters.

Their QC, Richard Harwood, argued that the council failed to consider whether there were substantial public benefits which justified the exceptional course of authorising the demolition of the grade II-listed Jessop Hospital.

The judge rejected this argument, paving the way for the university to demolish the 1902 gothic revival building to make way for RMJM’s £81 million engineering block.

RMJM's new engineering building for the University of Sheffield

Jessop West courtyard

But he did agree with Harwood’s interpretation of the disputed pararaph 133 in the National Planning Policy Framework which states: “Where a proposed development will lead to substantial harm to or total loss of significance of a designated heritage asset, local planning authorities should refuse consent, unless it can be demonstrated that the substantial harm or loss is necessary to achieve substantial public benefits that outweigh that harm or loss.”

The judge agreed that the correct comparison was between the benefits of keeping or not keeping the threatened building - not the benefits of an entire scheme.

Because it was a decision in the Court of Appeal, this does not set a legal precedent.

But Save director Clem Cecil said: “It’s really significant because this will come up again and again. It was exactly what people were worried about when they said the NPPF had a pro-development slant.

“I hope [this interpretation] will make it easier for a ruling in our favour in future.”



Readers' comments (15)

  • Getafix

    Can't believe this kind of idiotic vandalism is still taking place in 2013. Who are the people who make these crass decisions. Poor old Sheffield gets another bit of naff 'iconic' architecture that'll begin to fall apart within 5 years.

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  • From RumJum's website: "The principal driver for the external appearance is to create an identity that reflects the world-class quality of The Faculty of Engineering, whilst also creating a contextual response to the surrounding heritage and contemporary buildings. The facade concept references the repeated detailing of the listed Gothic and Victorian brick and stone facades and also ‘cellular automaton’ which is a discrete model studied in the field of engineering and used by the University to describe how the microstructure of steel changes during processing - making it important to the University and Sheffield’s heritage and local industry."

    ....and I'm sure those references won't be wasted on the thousands of people blighted by this elementary attempt at facadism.

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  • Getafix has it right.

    I can't believe the utter stupidity that previals at Sheffield Council and the University where they will be destroying a listed building to put up one of the most repulsive looking pieces of architectural excrement I have had the misfortune of having to look at.

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  • Ralph, I got that impression without looking at the RMJM site. However, it's also about another kind of steel: the stealing of the tangible [existing architectural] heritage that runs parallel as industrialism.

    What industrialism isn't going to originate firsts in health, e.g. the Jessop wing for women? I drew a parallel earlier with the Southern General Hospital in Govan, but actually there’s more than that, which meets the eye. Govan too, is literally brimming with hospital histories and facts - I’m almost certain - mainly because of the shipbuilding industry.

    This is incredibly strong cultural [social, architectural and urban] heritage that’s being literally stolen from future generations. There must be another way, here in Sheffield, to combine conservation and development so that they are truly in harmony.

    “...whilst also creating a contextual response to the surrounding heritage and contemporary buildings. The facade concept references [sic] the repeated detailing of the listed Gothic and Victorian brick and stone facades and ...”

    This all means well, but I’d urge RMJM to have a look at how Steven Holl is tackling a similar situation across from the Glasgow School of Art, where JM are incidentally involved locally. They are keeping the ‘C’ listed 1927 Assembly Building and building over and around it.

    The judge agreed that “total loss” gave rise for concern. Let’s take stock and do the right thing! Let’s not give NPPF a bad name so soon.

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  • Well put Ralph!
    It is so vulgar and modish that it has already dated badly.
    It would be interesting (although also totally facile) to understand whether the facade at the corner actually represents the true pattern that steel forms when bent at 90 degrees, as the molecular patterns are so important. My hunch is that it doesn't.

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  • It's unfortunate that the poor quality of the proposal distracts from the conversation as to whether this rather sad old building is really worth keeping.

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  • James, if anything it's a 'happy young building' that probably anticipated a much longer future when born, contemporarily so among its older relatives. A young star meeting an early fate!

    In Glasgow, the local Greek Revival was allowed to flourish a few more decades beyond the norm for the rest of the UK. The best examples of the styling are amongst the very youngest (latest) instances.

    It appears to me –even as an outsider - that the Jessop Edwardian wing is a young star of Sheffield’s own dialect. That’s by doing a quick Google Streetview around the centre.

    Anyone, please say if I’m wrong!

    Here’re some updated site perspectives, which reveal the potential urban quality to be lost in addition to a very strong architectural set-piece.




    But, a solution to keep all happy – Happy urban conservation/development side by side:

    Okay, there’s plenty of space for this brute, let’s add a storey to it if necessary and set it back behind the historical fabric, but joined to the rear of the fated Edwardian wing – that’ll give it 3 main street elevations (let’s not be greedy with that). In turn, a more discreet lane/court set back elevation can be introduced from behind the historic fabric to the new pedestrian space by bringing some of that sculptural outer layer [steel metaphor] stuff – not necessarily with accommodation as it will already have enough of this – through to the court from between the existing buildings. This would allow a 4th face to be more subtlety discovered rather than rammed down our throats from within the presently intimate court space: voilà.

    Again, the Edwardian wing is most probably (and proudly) part of that same industrialism that the Engineering Faculty want to celebrate using the said visual metaphor/notion of ‘steel’ as a replacement of the real thing - the unmanufactured heritage of the former hospital wing. Co-existence of both of these very powerful ‘development & conservation’ themes can work together as the solution for this particular urban situation (perhaps architecture thesis) as per my previous notes.

    This site (urban block) looks like it can quite easily accommodate iconic architecture due to its size, but it would have failed if it can’t support the strong urban conservation element too, in full (not half) measure.


    A gripe now:

    Maybe I’m a frustrated planning consultant at heart, but getting the urbanism right is something my school of architecture equipped me with, and I’m sure every other RIBA validated course in the UK.

    If the above all goes to plan without taking stock of the lessons learnt, in this saga, then the architects would do well to forgo chartered status. The last thing architects need in this climate is the continuum of a bad name, which no number of award winners are going to compensate for.

    If not, then perhaps I should consider joining RIRBA – the middle standing for ‘real’, as in getting-real. The profession can’t stand/tolerate such a mess when it’s trying to argue for ‘quality first’ in government policy. RIBA are planning to set up more urban design review panels I believe, which might help.

    As architecture graduates, we ought to be steering the client towards better places/urbanism; or away from easy anti-urbanism/anti-placemaking. What’s the point in producing all of those architectural theses in vain to graduate towards becoming architects, if we can’t enact such wisdom in the real world afterwards? Can we do it all before the RIBA ensures an adequate nationwide compliment of design review panels; and/or has to reinstate more public/social/environs protection in its Code of Conduct rather than the customer focus angle, which the ARB already oversees; etc. etc. etc..

    sorry unedited

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  • Here is a link to the letter (via FOI) sent last May, from SCC planning dept to Chris Miele, the consultant used by the University to navigate them to planning permission.


    A few weeks later, and following a meeting between the University Vice Chancellor and Sheffield Council Chief Executive (Heads of Planning and Development attended - they signed off the above letter..) , the tone of emails in FOI exchanges is quite different, with planning officers reluctantly progressing the application. The objections in that letter still stand, and clearly no concessions were made. It is striking that one of the most eloquent letters of objection came from the planning officers themselves.

    As late as 28th November the Head of Urban Design and Conservation at the Council wrote to the planning officer (local press covered this): As you are all too aware my view (reflected by that of CAG, the Design Panel and fellow officers) is that the proposals for Jessop east have both serious conservation implications and constitute poor design and should therefore be refused in accordance with the NPPF. However, I fully understand that the economic benefits are considered to outweigh such concerns.
    You have a difficult job but to ensure that we do not look foolish as an authority and do not make it impossible for us to refuse proposals on design grounds in future we have to be very clear about the balance that is being struck and the failings of the proposals.
    I've done my best to think of some positives but have come up with very little. My central thought is that you could frame your report in terms of the views presented to you by the applicant ie using phrases such as 'it is claimed that', 'the approach is based on the concept that etc without commiting SCC to sharing in this belief/approach. .. etc.

    Another officer pointed out the the City Development plan (draft, but adopted) contained a clause protecting the buildings because of 'economies of scale' that would be attractive to the University. That clause was silently removed and not mentioned in the planning reports (there were two - they messed up the first planning meeting, and the second one). The Universities argument was solely about public benefit which boiled down to economic benefits, yet the only council officer comment to be found via FOI or in the planning file is one severely criticising calculations offered by the University and commenting: "in particular there are several references to the fact that the University does not wish to sell the property and that if it did so it would include restrictive covenants in any sale document preventing anything other than educational use. That may well be factually correct but the point of the exercise would be to determine whether there is a viable alternative use which could be found for the property rather than demolition. To restrict uses in this way would make that even more difficult and so the appraisals in the report based on that assumption are not strictly relevant in this context."

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  • Rumpy Stumpy

    That has to be one of the ugliest eyesores I have seen in a while.

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  • Nicholas, it appears that your link has been blacklisted by browsers, so I feel disinclined to visit the FOI letter for now, but I trust it's authentic.

    This happened to me too during my last comment on Urban Realm, which I had to wait around 5 days to see. It was subject to around an unparalleled moderation period supplemented with the entire Urban Realm site going into malware alert blacklisting for a couple of days – 3 or 4 days after posting my comment.

    Needless to say - that when it was eventually uploaded and the malware alert removed - it had become old news due to the flurry of newer articles and comments on other subjects, ergo to push it off the homepage.

    I’d hardly call ruining one of the UK’s best historical urban spaces* OLD NEWS, but if the powers-that-be insist so, then so be it, there’s nothing we can do about it.

    [*BD: incidentaly if you’re looking for another possible cause celebre that also confronts a really bad planning decision then look no further to the Royal Exchange Sq court scheme, which you’d covered during application stage]

    I’d better watch, as I write this, some engineers/operatives are standing by an open comms box right outside my home, making peculiar beeping sounds. Not joking!

    Back to the topical aesthetics

    The visually metaphoric styling is heedlessly brave (not from the customer who demands it but from the architect at the expense of repute). It’s uncongenial contextually to the typical iconic architectural style of the rest of the campus; and more ironically it’s doing so with so very little historic fabric as counterpoint.

    Metaphoric iconic is usually the staple of household name architects and works best in places choking with historical fabric. It simply clashes in a contemporary context. There’s a good town centre example where UNESCO didn’t bat an eye, name escapes, which sees a heart shaped parametric style building with ventricles/arteries at the heart of an historic world heritage site.

    As I’ve hinted previously, it can save itself in 2 ways: 1) be redesigned to something more akin to the new Jessop West building, cleverly maximising elevations, albeit smaller; and/or 2) conserve the Edwardian wing in addition to the Victorian part so that it has as much counterpoint as possible to sit more comfortably as a metaphoric intervention.

    Even then, budding critics will still be waiting in the wings ready to strike, but with potentially little or no justification.

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