Archive for August 26th, 2008

‘Tinsley Towers’ post mortem

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

In the case of the Tinsley Towers, the three opponents all had there own agendas:

E.ON, having looked at the RIBA competition submissions, saw the value of their development land evaporating if the former power station site was rezoned as an ‘ecological park’. The landmark towers which made the site so special had to be destroyed at all costs.

The Highways Agency, after spending £82 million strengthening Tinsley Viaduct, couldn’t wait to pack the structure full of strain gauges and instruments and observe the effect of the cooling towers fall. After all it’s not every day that you can order up a earthquake at a time and place that is convenient.

Sheffield City Council wanted a modern city as epitomised by Meadowhall Shopping Centre without being reminded about the City’s industrial past.

Still from slide show of FoRM Associates proposal
for the Tinsley Towers (RIBA Competition 2007)

(click on picture to see the whole slide show)

Tinsley Towers are no more. What went wrong? One basic problem is that people interested in preserving industrial heritage are usually far too nice to give the battle sufficient bottle. In Britain it is commonly accepted that such things are done by quiet negotiation or not done at all. The result is that a lot of causes are lost or end up as unsatisfactory compromises. One famous example is the Bluebell Railway which, though originally envisaged as running a community passenger service between two large towns in the South of England, East Grinstead and Lewes, ended up as a heritage railway running from Sheffield Park (a small station in the countryside) to Horstead Keynes (a larger station in the countryside). It’s only now, 48 years after the line reopened as an independent concern, that the railway is slowly digging its way back through a landfill to reconnect with East Grinstead.

In the case of the Tinsley Towers, three powerful opponents all had there own agendas:

E.ON, having looked at the RIBA competition submissions, saw the value of their development land rapidly evaporating if the former power station site was rezoned as an ‘ecological park’. The landmark towers which made the site so special had to be destroyed at all costs.

The Highways Agency, after spending £82 million strengthening Tinsley Viaduct, couldn’t wait to pack the structure full of strain gauges and instruments and observe the effect of the cooling towers fall. After all it’s not every day that you can order up a earthquake at a time and place that is convenient.

Sheffield City Council wanted a modern city as epitomised by Meadowhall Shopping Centre without being reminded about the City’s industrial past.

In such circumstances it useless to hope that polite negotiations by themselves will win the day. There is an alternative, a rarely used ‘plan B’ when quiet negotiations seem to be leading nowhere, and that is to leave Queensbury Rules aside and go head to head with the opposition on a no holds barred basis. Such an approach was used by the famous anti motorway campaigner, John Tyme, and by Britain’s most famous poet laureate, Sir John Betjeman, when fighting to save London’s great railway termini. Sir John was very well connected, and many influential people supported his campaigns. He was also generous in lending his name and support to local societies.

So how does a plan B campaign work? A long time ago one of Dyspozytor’s good friends took on British Railways, a major property developer, the local County Council, the District Council and the town Council who were all implacably opposed to the reopening of a branch railway line in the South of England. Six years later, the key decision makers gave the restoration of railway the go ahead. We’ve summed up the strategy in our Little Red Book post. It’s a strategy that has been tested in battle!