Sheffield’s Old Town Hall and Courthouse, controversially put up for sale by its London-based owners only two weeks ago as a ’residential development opportunity’, has been taken off the market. The move comes only days after the agents told Radio Sheffield that ‘several enquiries’ had been received. But by yesterday evening (10 September) all trace of the sale brochure had been taken down from the internet by the agents, Michael Berman of Whetstone, north London.
‘It’s a very interesting move’ said Valerie Bayliss, chair of the campaigning group the Friends of the Old Town Hall. ‘Exactly the same thing happened a year ago, when a sale brochure appeared on a different agent’s website for a couple of weeks and then vanished. Clearly no sale took place then and it seems unlikely there’s been a sale now. We wonder what the owners are playing at. As far back as 2008 they advertised the building as for sale by auction, but it never got as far as the auction room. That happened after the Victorian Society included the Old Town Hall in its annual list of the country’s most endangered buildings. There’s a pattern here, and it isn’t one that helps the city’.
The Old Town Hall has been owned since 2004 by London-based G1 London Properties Ltd. Since then, as the Friends have pointed out, the building has been allowed to suffer serious decay. ‘This is a Grade 2 listed building’, said Brian Holmshaw of the Friends. ‘It is a disgrace that the owners appear to have done nothing to stop the rot. Meanwhile they advertised it, this year and last, at a price – £2m or more – that looks way over the top given the cost of repairing the damage’.
Meanwhile the Friends are working actively to find out what the building could be used for, and have commissioned a professional appraisal of potential options for its future use. ‘We expect the results of the study by the end of the year’, says Brian, ‘and that it will open up the building to many more opportunities than simply residential conversion – just look around the country. There are many town hall and courthouse conversions, as restaurants, offices and museums as well as housing. Places like Guildford, Oldham and Coventry have found imaginative new uses for them, often a mix of uses. In fact, while housing may be a possibility the layout of the Old Town Hall, with its two huge, top-lit Victorian courtrooms, makes it a challenge’.
The Friends hope that their study will encourage a wide range of potential users to take an active interest in restoring the Old Town Hall and make it once again an asset to Sheffield.