Park Hill: Looking Back, Moving Forward
Mark Latham, Urban Splash Regeneration Director
First of all, why Park Hill?
Park Hill is like a global brand for Sheffield. It has that national and international resonance, but we all know that there have been difficult times and cycles since starting off initially as quite a happy place. It later fell on hard times of course, but you could argue that a lot of the problems going on at Park Hill were actually going on across the whole of the industrial north. It wasn’t specific to a building type or a place, there were a lot of social and economic pressures spread across the areas that led to various issues.
What were the initial aims for the project when awarded the contract back in 2004? And have they changed or morphed over time?
I think fundamentally it has remained the same. There are different elements or ingredients in any development which might need slightly changing at times. We approached it with the idea that a building of this scale with the location and strength of character it has could become a fully-functional, successful place again. I suppose in the regeneration jargon of the day there were talks about “sustainable communities” and we’ve seen those sort of words come and go, but we know what it means: a place that people recognise and want to live in. It’s also about having a mix of people of different ages and backgrounds and a mix of facilities too. That aim has remained at the core of what we want for Park Hill, and if you look around the Streets in the Sky today you’ll see that’s what has been delivered.
And where are we at now in term of the development phases?
Where we are at is such a tipping point. We’re about to go onsite with Phase 2, which will provide 200 more flats and more ground floor facilities as well. The student housing scheme is about to going into planning, bringing another demographic to add to the community. With those things very close to coming into construction reality, both of which will be finished by the end of 2020, which will mean two-thirds of the whole estate done.
How have you set about changing the negative perspectives surrounding Park Hill?
70-80% of the job here is changing the perspectives and prejudices around Park Hill. But we have been able to take a lot of heart in the amount of people who’ve talked about how fundamentally it can be a great place to live. We worked quite closely with Ivor Smith, one of the original Park Hill architects who passed away quite recently, and shared a lot of design work and changes to the building with him. He told us that it was designed as a place for people to be happy to live in, but it became a place that wasn’t so much that anymore, and he have us his blessing on the plans to go for it and make it a place for people to live happy lives in again. It’s not job done yet, but I think we’re halfway to achieving that.
It’s also about having a mix of people of different ages and backgrounds and a mix of facilities too.
How do you counter the argument that redevelopment is essentially a large-scale gentrification project?
You’ve spoken to Dave, the chair of Park Hill Residents Association. Would you describe him as gentrified? He’s actually bought his own market flat, but he’s just an ordinary Sheffielder like many others who live here. That’s aside from the fact that 40% of the units in Phase 1 are affordable housing, so you’ve got people on full social rent and a number of incomes here. I have large sympathy with people who say that the dismantling of large-scale council housing is an issue – there certainly should be much more available. But I would equally argue that Park Hill benefits from being a mixed community rather than just offering one type of tenure, and that might be oversimplifying it a bit, but we could be looking at 1,500 people living here when the phases are complete and I think offering a variety of housing, as you find in most villages and communities, is a positive and healthy thing.
What makes Park Hill special to you?
Where do I start? I’m a big design fan and people say you either love it or hate it. Well, I love it. Fundamentally, it’s that sense of community that was still there when we first got involved and meeting residents who’d lived here through the bad times. It’s a source of pride for me that we as a company have managed to get through some difficult times – namely the pause due to the recession – and have been able to witness the reformation of a genuine community. Our next challenge is to get a pub in, so keep an eye out for that!