Streets in the sky

Helen Clifton on the redevelopment of Sheffield's famous Park Hills flats

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The first phase in the controversial redevelopment of Sheffield’s iconic Park Hill flats will be open to the public next month.

The massive modernist building – Europe’s largest listed structure– is undergoing a £146 million overhaul to bring its ‘streets in the sky’ back to use.

A total of 874 one, two and three bedroomed flats are being created; 200 will be social housing, 40 will be for shared ownership, and 634 private sale.

But the development, which began in 2007, has not been without teething problems. Government quango the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) has been forced to defend its £14.5 million funding of the project, which is being completed by developers Urban Splash.

Bail out?

The HCA – who are also paying for landscaping – had originally planned to spread their contribution over three of the project’s four phases. But following the housing crash of 2008, they have now ‘frontloaded’ £14 million for the first phase.

Urban Splash need to sell the first phase to move to the next, meaning there is no fixed completion date for the renovation.

A HCA spokesperson said that ordinarily in these circumstances, the scheme would have been mothballed. But the decision was made to bring forward the funding in order to get the project moving.

“We are not ‘bailing anyone out’. The HCA commitment to Park Hill goes back over seven years and Urban Splash were selected following a development competition in 2004. The total investment in Park Hill has not increased and will not do so.

Mixed communities

“It is important to say that this is not a ‘luxury’ scheme for sale – it is, and always was, intended as a mixed community – the provision of social rented housing was in the vision right from the start.”

In addition, a Housing Market Renewal grant to provide security, fund PCSO patrols and rehouse local residents already living in Park Hill has been cut – leaving Sheffield Council to pick up the £1.7m bill.

Councillor Harry Harpham, the council’s Cabinet Member for Homes and Regeneration, said: “There is no question about whether or not these costs should be funded; it is the right thing to do ensure that the local residents are safe and it is the Council’s statutory duty to provide home loss payments to residents who are moving home.”

Handing Park Hill to private developers has seen the city lose hundreds of council homes, although the land and building itself were given to Urban Splash for nothing.

A local member of the Defend Council Housing group said the number of council properties in Sheffield had been reduced by half from 90,000 to 42,000.

And with around 93,000 people on Sheffield’s housing register, of which 18,000 are actively bidding, DCH said the solution is to create more social housing, not less.

“The argument is that we need mixed tenure. Of course, we get concerned about large numbers of needy people being housed together – but the answer is not to close down half of the housing.”


Most Park Hill tenants have now been re-housed, with 108 families remaining in the final block to be redeveloped. Those who wished to stay in Park Hill have been moved to the remaining block; they will be given the first opportunity to move into the new flats.

The first phase contains 78 flats – 26 of which are for affordable rent – with occupancy expected from autumn 2012. A one-bedroom flat can be bought for £90,000. It has not yet been revealed what the other properties will cost.

The HCA are also committing £10 million for Park Hill’s social housing provision, or £50,000 per flat. Social landlord Great Places Housing will be in charge of letting the properties; rent levels are yet to be decided.

An HCA spokesperson said: “I don’t think we are ever going to go back to 100 per cent social housing. There has got to be a balance between private ownership and social housing, with shared ownership bridging that gap.”

The building – which is 50 years old – will also feature 40,000 square foot of commercial space.

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