Moorfoot is a brute of a building, dominating the Sheffield skyline, and 40 years after it opened, remains one of the city’s most controversial structures.
Its origins are in 1973 when Edward Heath’s Conservative Government created the Manpower Services Commission (MSC), to co-ordinate employment and training services in the UK through a ten-member commission drawn from industry, trade unions, local authorities and education interests.
Pat Duffy, the Labour MP for Attercliffe, excited by the prospect of 2,000 jobs, campaigned for the new headquarters to be built in Sheffield. Two years later, Harold Walker, Under Secretary at the Employment Department, told the House of Commons, “The decision has been made to locate the headquarters in Sheffield.”
It was an accomplishment for a down-at-heel northern city, but the citizens of Sheffield weren’t prepared for what came next.
The futuristic new headquarters was designed by the Government’s Property Services Agency – “A truly monolithic brutalistic office building. Red brick bands between rows of windows separated by concrete panels.” – eleven storeys high, with stepped levels across east, west, and north wings. Something of a pyramid, it earned nicknames like the ‘Aztec Temple’ and ‘Dalek City.’
That it would be built on land at the bottom of The Moor was even more controversial, cutting off Sheffield’s main shopping street from busy London Road, and depriving road and pedestrian traffic of a popular and historic route.
To compensate, it was designed to allow pedestrian access through the building, starting with an elevated ramp near the corner of Young Street and South Lane, before proceeding via a tunnel through the building, exiting above the car park, and using ramps to ground level on The Moor.
The route never opened, allegedly because IRA activity posed a threat to a government building, and the upper parts of the elevated walkway were left suspended mid-air before eventual removal.
The MSC opened in 1981, and for such a high-profile building, it was shrouded in mystery. Apart from the cavernous office-space, restaurant, bar, and basement squash court, were there really underground nuclear bunkers and a luxury apartment for Government hierarchy? Even today, the amount of information available about the building is incomplete – no floor plans, no design architect, no history forthcoming.
The MSC building was famous for its management of the Youth Training Scheme and various other training programmes intended to help alleviate the high levels of unemployment in the 1980s, but after 1987 the MSC lost functions and was briefly re-branded the Training Agency (TA), before being replaced by a network of 72 training and enterprise councils.
The MSC Building gave way to other Government agencies, including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Home Office. However, it was too big and expensive to maintain, with departments vacating over a twenty year period.
In the late 2000s, the MSC Building was bought by Sheffield City Council, and with demolition in mind, wanted to create a new financial services district in its place.
The timing could not have been worse, and the monetary crisis of 2007-2008 prompted a rethink, and the building was overhauled, renamed Moorfoot, with potential office space for 2,600 council employees, and consolidation of various departments from around the city centre.
As for the Moorfoot’s future, it is likely to stay, worthy of a facelift and a bit of greenery might not go amiss. The iron gates at ground level could be opened to allow public access between The Moor and London Road. And, as the aerial photograph shows, there is a chance to create a green square in front of its main entrance (demolition required).
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