Park Hill: Urban Splashback

Eighteen years on, “regeneration” has yet to reach the top of the hill.

In Sheffield for Offbeat, and with an hour to kill at the station, I climbed up through the snow to see how the redevelopment of Park Hill is going, eight and a half years since my last visit.

Back in 2014, the privatised, brightly cladded section [1] was at the bottom of the hill, but that wasn’t of much interest to us, instead, Yuki and I spent most of our time exploring and photographing the top, which was then very much still social housing.

The walkways and “Streets in the Sky” remained open to all; some residents were still clinging on.

They have all been decanted now, and given the glacial progress of the project, none will ever return.

Cheery pseudo-graffiti

Since the local council sold the entire estate to Urban Splash eighteen years ago, we’ve lived through many estate demolitions and social cleansing scandals.

Most infamous is the wholesale destruction of an entire working class community by Southwark Council at Elephant & Castle and the Heygate Estate.

Inaccessible stairwell (believe me, I tried)

Park Hill is at least still there. Climate change and embedded carbon are concepts councils pay lip service to nowadays. It could have been a lot worse.

The view through the cordon.

But it’s still pretty bad. Oliver Wainwright, writing in the Guardian to mark two thirds completion of Park Hill’s restoration, interviews Tom Bloxham, founder of Urban Splash.

Wainwright doesn’t need to tell us what Bloxham was wearing when they met earlier this year, but he does anyway. The quotes that follow are a revealing window into the mindset of paternalistic neoliberalism.

“I don’t buy this nostalgic thing of the good old days when it was all social housing,” said Bloxham.

Well, he’s helped fix that all right. Of the 450 flats now completed, only 20% of them are designated “affordable”: itself meaningless phrase compared to the securities and tenancies of social housing.

There are also now 356 student bedrooms, which confused me at first as I had thought the whole point was new homes. What do the students make of being decanted far from campus?

No longer a public amenity.

I had no opportunity to ask. Peering in, I could see vending machines and local phrases appropriated for marketing purposes, but very few signs of life.

There is a beautiful and terrible irony that these spacious flats have been converted into the kind of rabbit hutch rooms that would retail at £1,200 if marketed as luxury studios in outer London.

Doubling back down the hill, and passing the fence that now separates regeneration to unregenerated, I took a look a look at the middle section which, according to Wainwright, has been much more sensitively remodelled than the stuff down the bottom.

Home to a Doctor Who companion?

Unfortunately, I was unable to get in and find out. This is all gated now, and I didn’t fancy the awkwardness of lurking at one of the entrances awaiting a departing resident, though they must be used to weirdo architecture nerds lurking about the place like terrible and unconvincing spies.

One thing I was able to note was how much of the inner courtyards are now given over to car parking and CCTV.

This feels like another missed opportunity, as Park Hill is very close to both the city centre and the tram. Why so much parking? Where are kids supposed to play? Why not add more trees, or allotments? Where is the imaginations? This felt like being outside a new-build estate on the edge of Peterborough, not a vital, urban environment.

Sure, this was snowy December. But there was not much here that encouraged one to linger.

Remember: this was a place that once had “a butcher and baker, doctor and dentist, as well as community centre, creche, primary school and four pubs”.

Now? There is a vegan cafe, and a slightly sad-looking convenience store near the student block.

A panorama of Park Hill: still much to be done.

Incredibly, the fate of the rest of Park Hill is still to be decided. It can only be hoped that something can be salvaged from this decades-long debacle, so I urge the council to… perhaps turn it into social housing?

[1] Infuriatingly, a flat in this redevelopment was to become home to Yaz’s family in the Chibnall / Whittaker era of Doctor Who. I complained about this a LOT on the Ace Doctor Who podcast, as you might imagine)


    • Thanks so much! For some reason your phone number turned up in this comment – must be some weird email sig thing – so I removed it ha. Will be in touch, hope all is well with you and yours!

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