Many of us were shocked when it was announced that Sheffield City Council was looking to get rid of Don Valley Stadium. This may be because the current urban grain of Sheffield has settled into what we know it to be today, and Attercliffe in particular is now known for the stadium and Sheffield Arena. […]

Many of us were shocked when it was announced that Sheffield City Council was looking to get rid of Don Valley Stadium. This may be because the current urban grain of Sheffield has settled into what we know it to be today, and Attercliffe in particular is now known for the stadium and Sheffield Arena. Sadly Don Valley Stadium closed its doors for good at the end of September.

Even the fact that it was the home of our own Olympic hero, Jessica Ennis, couldn’t sway the council’s decision. The reason they gave was that the stadium cost too much to run and maintain and they couldn’t afford it anymore. Why does there seem to be no other option for this landmark building, even though it has become a valuable asset to the community?

We believe that, although Don Valley Stadium and Sheffield Arena are recent additions to the city, they are now part of its identity. If we cast our gaze back to the 80s and consider the origins of these places, Attercliffe and Sheffield as a whole looked very different. The city was in serious decline due to the collapse of industry. The crippling effects of this downturn thrust industrial parts of Sheffield into a state of widespread unemployment and dereliction.

These conditions left Sheffield badly in need of a makeover, so the leaders of the council embarked on a quest. They sought out a high-profile cause to drive their plans to regenerate these areas. Consequently the plan to bid for the 1991 World Student Games was hatched, and Sheffield won the bid with ease, apparently because nobody else bid for it. The story goes that the Games came and went in July and August 1991, leaving the city with an outstanding bill of £147 million and a handful of built assets which included the world-class sporting facilities at Don Valley Stadium, Ponds Forge and Sheffield Arena.

According to the council, the outstanding bill now sits at a whopping £650 million due to a number of major re-finances. This seems a preposterous amount for a stadium built over 20 years ago, with the council claiming that only half of that figure has been paid back since the games. The people of Sheffield paid for the running of the stadium through council tax and it was one of the city’s major public venues. It hosted a vast array of events, from national and international athletics meets to serving as an asset for universities, colleges, schools and the wider community. It was also home to Sheffield Eagles Rugby Club and hosted large scale entertainment events. The club’s chief said last year that the writing was already on the wall after politicians failed to name the stadium after Jess Ennis, as this was her stadium and could have promoted the clubs using it no end.

A group application from the Friends of Don Valley Stadium was recently turned down by the council as supposedly it didn’t meet the current criteria to warrant the stadium being registered as a community asset of value. The council said that they appreciated what the Friends had put forward, but would have to look to other options. They went on to say that because it is costing £5,000 per week in expenses, it will be demolished before Christmas. There is currently a campaign to save the stadium – petition at saveourstadium.co.uk – but it would appear the bell has already gone for the last lap.

Sheffield Council also recently announced possible plans to redevelop the stadium site into a £40m ‘Sports and Wellbeing Park’, including a new rugby stadium. Partners in the project include both universities, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, the NHS Foundation Trust, the Local Enterprise Partnership and Sport England. But at a time like this, will the project ever materialise? Further money has been spent at Woodburn Road athletics ground to improve facilities in anticipation of trying to keep Jess Ennis here in Sheffield. This is all very well, but will it provide the same kind of inspiration for kids starting out in athletics?

The plight of Don Valley is down to central government instructing local councils to review their assets and sell off any family silver that is deemed to be surplus. If councils keep selling off their assets there will be nothing in the future for them to borrow against, crippling further future public development and turning the councils into nothing but places of service management.

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Photo by Chard Remains Photographical

Max Everett and Geoff Mackay.