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Explosive new evidence shows that Sheffield Council did not tell the truth about the “collapse” of historic pub

Council officers emailed a national heritage organisation about an offer of help – but did not tell them that demolition had already begun hours earlier.

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A frame from footage we obtained showing that demolition had already started at 12:44pm, with the turrets intact.

Shocking video footage obtained by Now Then suggests that claims made over the past few weeks by Sheffield City Council (SCC) about the “collapse” of a historic pub in the Castlegate area of the city centre were untrue.

Before Christmas, SCC announced that they would need to demolish the Market Tavern on Exchange Street as it had deteriorated beyond repair. But local heritage campaigners secured a temporary reprieve for the building until midday on 10 January, while they sought fee-free advice from a national heritage organisation.

Up until now, SCC have claimed that, despite council officers being made aware of an offer of help from SAVE Britain’s Heritage at 11:30 that morning, the turret structure at the front of the building spontaneously collapsed at some point on 10 January, and demolition work was then needed to make the area safe.

But this was not true.

Now Then has obtained a video taken by a member of the public at 12:44pm showing that demolition work had already begun at that point, with the turret structure of the building intact – despite council claims that its spontaneous collapse is what triggered the subsequent work.

We also spoke to an eyewitness who said they saw the building’s turret structure being knocked down with demolition equipment. They wish to remain anonymous, but Now Then has seen evidence that they were at Exchange Street at the time.

In addition to this, we have obtained two videos taken by a different member of the public at 1:23pm and 1:30pm showing that demolition work was well underway to remove the entire second storey of the building at the time. We have been able to verify all of these videos using timestamps in the metadata.

The next day, a photo taken at 9:01am showed that the entire second storey of the building had been neatly demolished, including most of the historic features of interest on the upper half of the facade.

After presenting them with the footage we'd obtained, a spokesperson for Sheffield City Council told Now Then: "Our initial belief was that the top turret on the building had collapsed under its own weight on the morning of 10 January."

"New information has since come to light which shows the demolition company were instructed in error at 11:53am to continue with demolition. As a result of this order, our understanding is the turrets fell because of the recommenced demolition works."

Email exchange

Despite our video footage showing that demolition was already well underway by 12:44pm on 10 January, later that evening at 9:10pm council officer Sean McClean sent an email to SAVE Britain’s Heritage proposing that they discuss the group’s offer to undertake an assessment of the building.

McClean had been notified informally of the offer at 11:30 that morning – Now Then has confirmed that the offer was passed on to him in person during an unrelated council meeting.

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The facade of the Market Tavern shortly before demolition work began in early January.

Hallamshire Historic Buildings.

At no point in the email does McClean, who is the council’s Director of Regeneration and Development, mention the fact that half of the building had been demolished earlier that day, or the council’s subsequent claim – now shown to be untrue – that the building’s turret structure had spontaneously collapsed.

We asked Sheffield City Council whether McClean was aware that demolition had taken place earlier that day when he sent the email, and if so why he didn’t mention it to SAVE Britain’s Heritage, but they did not respond to these specific questions.

Despite SCC’s claims that demolition was “paused” on 9 January and remained paused, repeated visits to the site by Now Then found what appeared to be the full demolition of the 100-year-old building continuing during the following weeks. The building is now almost completely demolished.

Coincidentally, SCC announced last Wednesday that preparation work had started that week on a project to transform the wider Castlegate site, which includes the former Market Tavern building at its perimeter.

Market tavern demolition

The photo obtained by Now Then, taken at 09:01am on 11 January.

Two decades of neglect

The former Market Tavern, which was built in its current form in 1914 but which had stood empty since it closed as a pub in 2006, was acquired by the city council in that same year using £457,000 of public money.

Since then the building has been left to decay and its roof collapse, despite various claims by SCC over the years that they would eventually like to bring it back into use as part of the wider regeneration of the Castlegate site.

As recently as July last year, council documents show that they intended to spend over £1 million from their Levelling Up Fund grant for Castlegate on emergency repairs to the Market Tavern and the neighbouring Mudford Building.

But on 20 December, they announced that during work to remove asbestos from the building as part of this allocation of money, an assessment was carried out by in-house engineers and “unfortunately, the whole building was deemed unsafe and requires full demolition.”

Local heritage campaigners Hallamshire Historic Building Society say that an assessment by an expert from SAVE Britain’s Heritage may have reached a different conclusion about the viability of retaining and refurbishing the building.

But the new footage we obtained shows that less than an hour after the offer from SAVE was passed on to council staff, the building’s most important historical features, including the two central turrets and the decorative brickwork beneath them, had been lost forever – apparently in error.

Questions to answer

We asked the council to explain why McClean didn’t mention the substantial demolition work that had taken place earlier that day, if he was aware of it, in his email to SAVE Britain’s Heritage at 9:10pm on the evening of 10 January. They did not answer this question.

In a statement sent to Now Then in response to our investigation, Councillor Ben Miskell, Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Committee, said that "as an organisation transparency is vital to us."

"Throughout the process I have been keen that partners are kept fully informed," he continued. "I am disappointed that this does not appear to have been the case and people have been provided with inaccurate information. We will be writing to partners to apologise and will be launching an internal investigation to understand exactly what went wrong."

In response to our reporting, the council said that they would launch an internal investigation into what happened at the Market Tavern "in due course".

For many, what happened at Exchange Street on 10 January and the subsequent attempts at a cover-up will go beyond the fate of one dilapidated building, and speak to a culture at the council which appears to have changed little since the days of the street tree scandal.

Sir Mark Lowcock, the chair of the public inquiry into that episode, said in his final report that Sheffield Council had “repeatedly said things that were economical with the truth, misleading and, in some cases, were ultimately exposed as dishonest.”

Now Sheffield City Council have again been left with serious questions to answer about who knew what and when, and why the public, as well as residents and businesses in the Castlegate area, appear to have been misled about what happened to this historic building.

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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