Dear Sheffield, Park Hill is a scandal so please stop celebrating it. It’s sacrilege to say it, I know, and I am one of the few people that would have happily seen the place razed to the ground rather than converted into ”new homes to buy from £100,000”. Park Hill was built as what we now call social housing, but what we used to call council housing, which were available to rent at reasonable rates for those whose financial situation would not enable them to buy a house. Yes, that’s right, this was one those evil socialist schemes that rebuilt the country and replaced slums after the Second World War.
However, Park Hill was a monumental fuck up because it was designed without including many of the amenities required within easy reach in order to sustain a community:- shops, schools, medical centres, entertainment, pubs etc. There were all of those things, but not accessible enough for anyone other than those fully physically able, which is what led to the isolation of many people living in those estates.
I am no stranger to drinking, but when I lived in Park Hill, I never visited either of the pubs that were compressed like a fist in a vice at the ground level of the flats. Not because I am a snob, but because they both looked more like a threat than a promise.
Park Hill was a scandal when it was first built, due to the failure of those who specified it, and it was a scandal again, a generation later, when it was used a sink-estate for poor people and problem families.
I lived in Park Hill for 18 months in 2003/4 and had to move out due to the pressure of the imminent reposession & redevelopment of the flats. Internally, the flats were really good, although your doormat was only one step away from a dystopia convincing enough to feature as a ready-built set in several movies.
I’ve heard people blame Le Corbusier for the dehumanising brutalism of the 60s and 70s, but his vision was of “streets in the sky”, not “featureless & disorientating, unnaturally long prison blocks in the sky with no nearby amenities”.
Before the newly refurbished units were actually for sale, I attended a talk by employees of Urban Splash about the redevelopments and was genuinely impressed (at the time) by the amount of thought that had gone into ameliorating the physical and social problems of the site. But given the enormous delay in completion, and the “from £100,000” business, I now see Park Hill as nothing more than a land-grab by a rapacious corporate organisation that has deprived Sheffield’s people of a huge amount of affordable housing.
Ironically, the “Scottish Queen” pub (presumably named after Mary Queen of Scots who was for a time imprisoned at Manor Lodge, the source of the name of another historically infamous sink estate in Sheffield) has been gutted and turned into a demographically-opposed art exhibition space.
It gets worse. Today, I read a short, online article by Artists’ Newsletter (AN) about how Sheffield-based S1 Artspace has attracted £1 million towards a redevelopment of the Duke Street wing of Park Hill for “artist studios, creative workspace, live/work flats, production workshops and an education space”. The article is factually inaccurate so I don’t know how much of that cool million is actually at the disposal of S1 or whether their bit is part of a larger project.
AN refer to Park Hill as being “derelict”, but it was not derelict before Urban Splash took ownership. There were nearly a thousand habitable dwellings in 2004, but now there are at least 700 of those dwellings empty, and not just empty, uninhabitable. During my previous visit to Park Hill, on 24th October 2015, there was debris and litter showing the remains of people sleeping rough.
Homeless people sleeping rough in an empty housing estate?
Today, I revisited the site in order to get my own photograph of the evidence, but the developers have now closed off that area.
I am told that Urban Splash ensure that all the properties they take over are rendered un-squattable by removing all the internal infrastructure. How thoughtful.
Urban Splash has been sitting on these properties for 10 years and a quick look around the site suggests that it will not be finished for at least another 10 years. In the meantime, homelessness increases and people continue to die due to the punitive policies of our fascist government when they could be easily afforded modest, temporary accommodation in un-let units in a financially non-viable housing development.
Here are the 22 photos I took of empty units (with no overlaps), showing just how much housing has been removed from the market. I tweeted one photo a day to Urban Splash and Prime Fuckwit Cameron just before the election in 2015.
According to AN, the redevelopment by S1 Artspace will not be complete until 2020 and they do not mention any social housing, but there will be “an archive, auditorium and a gallery”. Oh yes, and a sculpture park.
‘Lord Bob Kerslake, a champion of the project, said: ”This is an exciting project for Sheffield that will provide a fantastic new home for arts and culture at Park Hill. I am delighted to be championing it.”’
Bob Kerslake, Sorry, Sir / Kaiser / Tzar / Shah Bob used to be the CEO of Sheffield Council and should know better. But nowadays he’s in the London Bubble and I’m sure that the idea of “derelict” buildings being turned into artists’ studios, 150 miles away, sounds very positive. But Sheffield is not short of artists’ studios, what Sheffield is short of is employment and housing for ordinary people, and that £1 million could have been better spent investing in local manufacturing (not retail) and refurbishing Park Hill as modest dwellings for people other than fucking hipsters.
Park Hill is a scandal, yet again, and Urban Splash should be ashamed of their failure. What’s more, S1 Artspace should reconsider their plans and whoever has committed this quoted £1 million should go and visit Sheffield’s Archer Project and ask their clients if they would rather sleep rough in a disused housing estate, or a sculpture park.