University of Sheffield blasted over scrapped £25m music centre

The University of Sheffield.
The University of Sheffield.

The University of Sheffield has been blasted for abandoning plans for a futuristic £25 million music centre amid claims that it wasted £1m of contract bidders' resources.

The proposed Pearl building at Upper Hanover Street was intended to provide new combined facilities for the university’s music, theatre studies and creative writing departments.

It was earmarked to replace warehouses and former light industrial buildings opposite the Jessop West humanities building and was heralded by university bosses as helping to provide a 'strong and vibrant city'.

But the university has scrapped the project blaming public funding cuts and uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

Procurement reform campaigners have hit out at the decision to shelve the ‘inept and exploitative’ single-stage competition – which they claim required costly outline designs from all applicants.

Online procurement service Project Compass said 150 firms applied and based on average bid spending up to £1m of interested architects’ time and resources may have been wasted.

The service also said interested architects' raised concerns that the university had failed to produce a feasibility study prior to launching the contest. It is claimed bidders suggested placing an auditorium on the constrained city-centre site may have been highly challenging, something which a feasibility study would have revealed.

Project Compass director Russell Curtis called for the university to reform its practices and added: "The late cancellation of the project just adds insult to injury. Such a laissez-faire approach really does demonstrate a profound misunderstanding of how much time and effort goes into responding to these things."

One bidder, who asked to remain anonymous, said this incident is "symptomatic of what is going on at the moment " with clients failing to "have any sense of the burden of wasted time and cost they place on the architectural profession."

The building was expected to feature a flexible recital hall capable of seating between 200 and 650 people alongside a 300-seat ‘black box’ theatre and a 160-capacity rehearsal studio. It was also planned to house two music psychology laboratories, an ethnomusicology studio, seven practice rooms, two soundproofed studios plus breakout spaces and multi-purpose rooms.

A University of Sheffield spokesperson said: ​"We endeavour to only advertise opportunities where there is a strong likelihood of proceeding. However, given the ongoing reductions of public funds to universities and the implications of the EU referendum, the University has carefully reviewed its capital projects and taken the decision in this instance to concentrate on continued partnerships with the music, art and performance spaces across our city region, rather than proceed with 'The Pearl' at this time.

"Our procurement process is as open and transparent as possible and includes information around what happens if a project is cancelled. We recognise that this is disappointing for those architecture firms that have submitted bids. However, we will keep interested architecture firms informed about future opportunities with the University."