Park Hill: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Richard Bolam, ex-resident, artist and media producer:

Park Hill took four years to build from scratch but Urban Splash have already taken 10 years to fail to finish it.

You’ve argued in your blog that the design of Park Hill estate rendered it a failure from the beginning. Can you explain why?
The original failure was that the “Streets in the Sky” concept, so beloved of Le Corbusier and the brutalism fetishists is all very well, but the facilities in Park Hill were implemented with minimum standards. There were no shops or other amenities except on the ground floor making it isolating for anyone with mobility problems. Also, the orginal design created lots of secluded corners making it both intimidating and genuinely dangerous for vulnerable tenants.

What are your main issues with the Urban Splash redevelopment project?
After leaving in 2004, I pretty much forgot about Park Hill until I went with a group of photographers on a look-around in October 2015 when I was shocked by how little had been finished and that there was evidence of people sleeping rough in the curtilage. Park Hill took four years to build from scratch but Urban Splash have already taken 10 years to fail to finish it. In the midst of a widely acknowledged housing crisis, they have rendered two-thirds of the living accommodation uninhabitable, in order to prevent squatting, so it can’t even be used temporarily.

Although there is an element of social housing, most of it’s not, with purchase prices starting at £100,000. The site is being gentrified as an asset for the middle class when it was built with public money for the purpose of providing sanitary housing for working people.

Adding insult to injury, the Duke Street block is to be redeveloped as an art space for S1 Artspace. Contrary to what is claimed, this will not be a good thing for the city, it will be a good thing for a very small demographic of middle-class white people. I know because I am one of them and I know just what a small world is the world of contemporary fine art.

Ideally, what would like to see done with Park Hill?
I attended a talk by Mark Latham when they were first refurbishing Park Hill and I was impressed with the improvements, as they were addressing some of the problems that I had encountered myself. But that was before I knew it was going to become a speculative asset for a private company. If Urban Splash can improve the place, then so can any other developer, given the money. Sheffield City Council borrowed money to build a new office block for HSBC, so why can’t they borrow money to refurbish affordable housing.

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Kim Mogg, resident of two years: “I had heard some rumours about Park Hill when I told people I was moving, but when I went around to look at the show flats before moving in I just fell in love with how the flats looked and the feel of the new phase. There is a huge sense of community. We have a resident Facebook group where we all talk, whether that’s asking someone to come and move something or borrowing some sugar. We also share things that are going on around Park Hill; we’re in the process of putting together a community garden and I’m also part of a book group which meets every six weeks. Now that we’ve got South Street Kitchen we suggested having drinks down there as neighbours. I’ve never lived in such a huge block of flats but also have never lived somewhere that is so friendly.”

Next: Tom Mutton, resident of three years

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