It began to look more ominous for the Devonshire Street shops when the report from the Council’s planning officers came out. It recommended that councillors on the planning committee approve the application to demolish 162-170, which includes the legendary Rare and Racy record and book shop. In March, a majority of councillors did as was […]

It began to look more ominous for the Devonshire Street shops when the report from the Council’s planning officers came out. It recommended that councillors on the planning committee approve the application to demolish 162-170, which includes the legendary Rare and Racy record and book shop. In March, a majority of councillors did as was suggested and approved the plans. They seemed to believe there was no basis to reject the plans, but also cited the costs of a possible government inquiry as a concern.

Government planning inquiries can now easily be triggered by developers when an application is rejected. Decisions can be overruled, with inspectors citing inconsistencies in local planning policy, or elements being outdated or incompatible with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF – the ultimate planning rulebook). This has resulted in a defensive approach from the council where local planning policy is concerned. In the Devonshire Street planning report, where policies look slightly outdated, they are dismissed as being too weak to uphold.

As a number of objectors have pointed out, there are rules in the NPPF which could be used to reject the application. Neither is it true that all planning inquiries go against councils. There have been a number recently which have upheld decisions, placing value on heritage assets and the character, identity and long-term economic vitality of an area – obviously all relevant to this case.

Our hope now lies with laws that protect the buildings which are home to these businesses. The buildings are very old, and whilst not listed, they are part of “an important group of early buildings” (Sheffield local planning guidance), which includes the listed building which is currently home to Within Reason, the former Wharncliffe Fireclay Works and Showroom. Replacing 162-170 with modern units will have a harmful effect on the setting of listed buildings – how we can best experience the buildings. In planning law, at the level of the indisputable NPPF, that is a serious point.

It’s unclear why the planning officers didn’t home in on this. There was an attitude that heritage values were just not relevant to this case. A report looking into the significance of the buildings should have been commissioned at the beginning, but only materialised very late in the day at the request of South Yorkshire Archaeology Service. That report, by Wessex Archaeology, found that the loss of heritage value, especially communal heritage value, was so great as to outbalance whatever benefits the new development had to offer. None of the objectors knew about this, because the report only appeared online three months after the deadline for comments. The report also indicated that the particular buildings under threat, dating to c.1827, may be the oldest shop buildings in the city centre. We’ve found nothing to contradict this.

At the level of local planning, the council should have been confidently protecting these buildings, instead of disregarding them because they don’t meet standards of listed buildings. At the level of national planning policy, the question of the harm to the setting of listed structures is very important, and many planning applications are declined because of this. Yet in this case it was only given the most basic lip service. This is a serious enough omission to have the decision overturned in the High Court, which is what our legal team – the same legal team used by SAVE Britain’s Heritage – is aiming for. Files have been served. It’s essential we get public support to fund this now.

Now Then is supporting the campaign to save 162-170 Devonshire Street. We have collated a digital album of local music (48 tracks and counting) which is being offered as one of the perks in the crowdfunding campaign.

To support the legal action and find out about other perks being offered by Sheffield artists, head over to savedevstreet.org.uk

Photo by Guy Atkinson

Nick Roscoe is a heritage campaigner who is heading up the attempted judicial review.

Nick Roscoe