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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 July 2006, 02:43 GMT 03:43 UK
Turning towers into art

Ed Newton
BBC News On Tour rookie reporter

Cooling towers
It is hoped that the towers can be transformed into a public work of art

For many visitors to Sheffield, their first glimpse of the city involves two disused cooling towers known locally as "the salt and pepper pots", which are set to be demolished.

Moves are afoot, however, to turn the towers into public art.

Whenever you visit or pass Sheffield, you cannot fail to spot the huge cooling towers which overshadow the M1 motorway at the Tinsley Viaduct by Meadowhall.

The structures were originally part of Blackburn Meadows Power Station which closed down in the 1970s.

The owner of the unused towers - Eon UK - intends to demolish them later this year and says it has no other option.

Despite this, a national project is still hoping to transform the landmarks into a public work of art - an idea which has been around in Sheffield for several years and has received much public support.

A curator will soon be appointed in Sheffield - they will then choose artists with the local community's help who will redevelop the site
Big Art spokeswoman

One of the pioneers behind one of the original schemes, Tom James, said: "People see the towers as an eyesore, but they're a massive icon for people, not just in Sheffield but for half the country who drive past".

He said transforming the site would help change the perception projected by films such as The Full Monty that Sheffield was a dead, post-industrial city.

Mr James thinks the art project would help to regenerate Sheffield and highlighted the boost that the Angel of the North had brought to Tyneside. An overhaul could have a similar effect in Sheffield, he believes.

He became one of the authors of the project Cooling the Towers, run by the Sheffield magazine Go. It held a competition in which members of the public were asked to outline innovative ideas on how to use the structures as public art.

Angel of the North
The Angel of the North has helped to regenerate Tyneside

Suggestions included turning the industrial site into gigantic tankards, a skate park and a theme park with rooms inside based upon local celebrities.

The winning idea was created by Alastair Parvin. It was to have one tower to represent the north and the other the south and for a light to go on the relevant tower for every 100 cars that passed by on the M1.

However, the Highways Agency would not allow this, Mr James explained.

More recently the idea of transforming the towers polled the most nominations in a national vote for Channel 4's Big Art project. Six sites were chosen for re-development in the UK's biggest public art commission and will feature in the programme later this year.

A spokeswoman for the project said "A curator will soon be appointed in Sheffield. They will then choose artists with the local community's help who will redevelop the site".

Uncertain future

She said the site was the focus of the art project's involvement in Sheffield, but added even if the towers were destroyed they would remain a "symbol" of the art re-development that would take place in the city.

The towers' owner, Eon UK, is well aware of the art project proposals but said it had no option but to demolish the towers.

A spokesperson said: "The structures at the moment are stable enough to allow us to demolish them safely but, if we leave it too much longer, then they will degrade to the extent that we simply cannot guarantee that we can control the demolition."

He added that "with the towers being so close to the M1, that's not a position we want to be in".

The company has been in negotiations with Channel 4 over the issue and said: "We're happy to see if we can come up with something to mark the demolition but all these ideas about using the structures simply aren't feasible."

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