Penistone Road retail centre – a failure of planning policy

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Joint statement from the Upper Don Trail Trust and Cycle Sheffield

This week, Sheffield City Council’s Planning and Highways Committee approved a new retail centre opposite the Hillsborough football ground on Penistone Road.

Developers now have planning permission for retail outlets including a supermarket, gym, drive-thru restaurants and a builders merchants.

They will build them on a largely derelict triangle of land between Penistone Road, Herries Road and Herries Road South.

The Upper Don Trail Trust and Cycle Sheffield welcome the overdue redevelopment of this land. But we are disappointed and concerned that the Planning Committee did not take up our suggestions for improved active travel facilities for people walking and cycling.

Our two organisations objected to planning permission unless the existing substandard active travel provision around the site was radically improved. (Please click here to see our earlier news post in which we set out our concerns)

The city council has declared a Climate Emergency. But planning decisions like this suggest the council is not giving enough priority to sustainable travel.

The Upper Don Trail Trust and Cycle Sheffield are now calling on the council’s Co-operative Executive to review how this planning application was presented and handled by the Planning and Highways Committee.

Today we are issuing the following joint statement:

After the last 18 months of pandemic and a summer of terrifying disasters driven by climate change there is a very widespread hope and expectation that we will at last start to take sustainable travel seriously.

Tuesday’s Sheffield Planning and Highways Committee suggested sadly otherwise when they approved a new retail and leisure park on the Penistone Road/Herries Road triangle site in Hillsborough including a gym, a value supermarket and a coffee shop with only the most minimal concessions to supporting sustainable travel by foot or cycle.

The Upper Don Trail Trust and Cycle Sheffield had requested that the redevelopment of this long derelict site should include an upgrade of a section of the notoriously substandard Penistone Road cycleway which borders the site, to install a controlled crossing for pedestrians and cyclists at the dangerous Herries Road South junction, and that the historic Wardsend Mill Goyt which runs through woodland at the north end of the site be properly restored and opened to public access and stewardship.

Not only was the information presented by officers to the committee at best misleading and at worst plain wrong, but with the honourable exception of new Green councillor Brian Holmshaw, no other member of the committee could even summon enough interest to raise any of these matters, including the chair Coun Peter Price who also doubles up as chair of the council’s Cycle Forum!

To be fair, some widening of the heavily used but seriously substandard Penistone Road cycleway will be delivered but only along a part of the site frontage, and to an unsegregated 4.0m. And an improved design of the new access road designed to give priority to people cycling and walking – essentially a small tarmac ramp – is included “subject to safety audit”.

But the opportunity to provide a consistent full standard, fully segregated walking and cycle route along the whole site frontage on an important radial route has been thrown away, as was the chance to get the developers to pay for a sorely needed controlled crossing of the Herries Road South/Penistone Road junction. These will apparently be left to the council to deliver at some unspecified future date and subject to funding from unspecified public sources and in the case of the crossing, only when the developer decides to do something with the old Charlie Browns auto spares site.

A question about the Wardsend Mill Goyt revealed that no one present even knew whether it was a waterway, let alone its historical or environmental potential.

Most troubling were the reasons given by officers for failing to press for these improvements:

  1. Penistone Road is not considered a ‘Strategic Cycle Route’. Really? It appears on the council’s official cycle map, it’s part of the National Cycle Network and it fits the current criteria for government and city region policy to promote direct ‘utility’ cycle routes following major radials. It’s also a key link in the proposed 20 km Upper Don Trail.
  2. The improvement would constitute “an isolated section” which would be dangerous for users if it was of a higher standard  than adjoining connections. Again, it’s not in any sense isolated and how are staged improvements of existing routes ever going to be justified if this rule is applied?
  3. The improvements for cycling and walking requested would be “disproportionate” since the development was not expected to generate significant extra demand for walking or cycling. This seems to say that most customers and staff are expected to continue to travel by car and that’s ok – a circular argument if ever there was one!
  4. It is not the role of a developer to provide strategic long distance cycle or walking routes. But if that were the case, how is it that the council were able to get Meadowhall to construct a then “isolated” mile of the Five Weirs Walk, or to get Bloors at Deepcar or Barretts at Oughtibridge to build significant sections of the Upper Don Trail, both now on site? Application of this principle more widely would be a huge step backwards for getting the private sector to contribute to the massive task of promoting active travel.
  5. Widening of the cycle-footway at the north end of the site would affect a “protected woodland”. Yet the only trees affected by the modest incursion required into this large area would be a few scrawny self-set sycamore and ground elder, in a woodland desperately in need of management and thinning. Was this really the intent of the Tree Protection Order?
  6. Widening the cycle footway to a preferred 5.0m would require a reduction in parking spaces within the development. This actually isn’t true, as the developer’s own plans showed, but even if it was is that really a good argument in this era?

Far from representing a new determination by the council to  ‘build better’, this decision looks like a massive and dismal step backwards .

We would call for a serious review by the Council’s Cooperative Executive into how this application has been handled and presented to the committee.

Upper Don Trail Trust

Cycle Sheffield

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