Could a Community Land Trust (CLT) be used to preserve one of the buildings threatened by the proposed Sheffield Retail Quarter (SRQ), and thereby promote a new form of regeneration?
The background to this query is that as some of you may know, Sheffield Council have bought Laycock House as part of their proposed development of the area for the Sheffield Retail Quarter. The building, which forms the corner between Pinstone St. and Cross Burgess St., dates from 1896 and has been in continuous occupation since then, used exactly as it is now - 5 small maisonette houses atop 5 small shops. Those of you who have visited me in my house there, or others in the row, will know what a special place it is, and how well it works for the surrounding area for those houses and shops to be there, providing a sense of natural ownership and residential use for that prominent part of the city. Laycock House is a perfect example of the kind of building, in terms of scale and function, that should permeate the entire city centre.
In order to progress their development plan, the council have told all the householders and the shops that they will require vacant possession some time next spring. At this stage of course there are no concrete plans for what will take place there, but at the very least they will be seeking to retain the facades. After attending numerous presentations about the SRQ project, I believe that the council are very keen to take on board the drift of their consultation process that there should be a strong element of heritage protection in the scheme, and that the social grain of the area should be preserved and even enhanced where it can be. Laycock House is a great opportunity for them to show good faith in pursuing this.
As an initial response to the council’s request that we vacate, I have asked them to be open to the concept of leaving the building as it is, subject to some necessary refurbishment. I think it can be shown that it would stack up economically, and although we (the building’s current tenants) accept that we could not stay there during any major development that might take place in the area, we would propose that after the works it would be possible for us (or other tenants) to move back in. Having mooted this idea to council officers directly connected with the scheme and others more widely involved with city regeneration, I think there is reasonable hope that all parties could agree to work towards this. If those discussions are positive, the door may then be open to the setting up of a CLT to manage the process. For the council it would be a great way to achieve the balance they are trying to build in to the overall SRQ scheme, and although I and my fellow tenants (including Sapper), would be delighted to continue to live there in the future, the greater satisfaction would lie in knowing that a cherished site had been retained without suffering from the “retail upgrade”.
I have looked at the Community Land Trust website and it is very helpful. I think it could well be an excellent vehicle for us, the council and the local community, to achieve the acquisition and continued use of this building which would then become a community asset, and that taking it out of the commercial mix would not seriously detract from their proposition. For the community at large it would be a first local step towards using the tool of embedding long-term community interest into the fabric of city centres to break up the drift towards large scale corporate ownership, which has hitherto thwarted genuine regeneration.
I would love to hear what others have to say about this. There is of course some urgency - the council’s plan moves on apace. Please get back to me soon. Meanwhile please accept my thanks for reading this through.
5, Laycock House
Cross Burgess Street
16-20 Sidney Street
Sheffield, S1 4RH
Tel 07764 236695
July 31st, 2015