Saturday 2 May 2009

Sheffield's heritage housing

I don't think English Heritage have done themselves any favours, in such a tough public spending environment, with the eponymous fly on the wall documentary series currently showing on Friday nights on BBC2, and which last night featured quixotic attempts to preserve Sheffield's imposing Park Hill estate.

I saw last night's second episode having been alerted to the series by Bryan Appleyard's thoughtful examination of it in last weekend's Culture section of the Sunday Times:

It is, in the words of one previewer, “an all-singing, all-dancing stitch-up”. Patrick Forbes, the director of the series, denies this, and Simon Thurley, the chief executive of EH, seems unaware of it.

As Appleyard notes, the EH brief "to protect and promote England’s spectacular historic environment and ensure that its past is researched and understood" is inevitably wide open to subjective judgments about what to preserve and how.

Indeed, Appleyard ended up acquitting EH, despite the impression given by the documentaries "Laugh at the series, but then consider what is not being said", he concluded.

Up to a point, perhaps.

Yet the EH approach to Sheffield was surely infuriating.

One tried to work out whether those involved were playing up to the cameras and, on the whole, it seemed not. This is how they go about the job.

Endless discussions seemed to go nowhere. Perhaps inevitably, as they revolved around ambiguities about what they project's goals which never seemed to be resolved.

The estate was certainly not going to be preserved, nor rebuilt, but it would reimagined according to the cross-pressures of visions of cappucino regeneration and ideas about preserving the "idea" of Park Hill, which ultimately came down to preserving the concrete frame for the building, and worrying about the colouration of the concrete in particular.

Perhaps we were not told the full story in the documentary. I would be very happy to hear more from Sheffield about this.

The only people who did not seem to get a look in were those who might live there.

Then, with the credit crunch, it all stalled, with just the concrete frame now overlooking the city, and any future uncertain.

Appleyard notes that it has become rather a striking piece of sculpture.

But as either heritage or regeneration, this looked much more like folly.

1 comment:

David Keen said...

I grew up in Sheffield, and was back there last week to visit my folks. To see the shell of the flats looming over the city was deeply depressing, even more so to be told it was now protected by heritage status.

It's not a striking bit of sculpture, it's an eyesore, and whichever pillock decided it should be preserved should be made to live there.