Eric Pickles declines to call in planning application for RMJM-designed university scheme

An £81m new building for Sheffield University has got the green light after communities secretary Eric Pickles decided not to call in the planning decision.

The 19,500 sq m New Engineering Building, designed by RMJM Architects and involving consulting engineer Arup and project manager and cost consultant Turner & Townsend, is now due to open by 2016.

The scheme has proved highly controversial because it involves demolishing the Grade II-listed Edwardian extension to the former Jessop Hospital.

Building reported last month that five contractors - Interserve, Bowmer & Kirkland, Bam Construct, Miller and Sir Robert McAlpine - were in the running for the construction job, valued at £50m.

Keith Lilley, director of estates and facilities management at the University of Sheffield, said: “We are extremely pleased that we can now begin to progress this essential new development which is the centrepiece for a £154 million investment in our engineering estate, including comprehensive refurbishment and preservation of the Grade II listed Mappin Building.

“We are committed to investing in a high quality, stunning building which will not only be the centrepiece for the Faculty of Engineering’s continued success, but will also be a source of enormous pride for the city.”

The university now expects 1,600 additional engineering students by 2020 with around 400 additional staff recruited to support that growth.

However, heritage campaigners called Pickle’s decision an “absolute disgrace”.

On its website, RMJM described the project as a “purpose built teaching and integrated learning facility that provides a high quality student experience across a range of engineering disciplines”.

The firm said: “The principal driver for the external appearance is to create an identity that reflects the world-class quality of The Faculty of Engineering, whilst also creating a contextual response to the surrounding heritage and contemporary buildings.

“The facade concept references the repeated detailing of the listed Gothic and Victorian brick and stone facades and also ‘cellular automaton’ which is a discrete model studied in the field of engineering and used by the University to describe how the microstructure of steel changes during processing .”