An Outdoor Inner City

David Bocking
5 min readFeb 3, 2021


Once we can safely get there again, we’ll find Sheffield has a different town centre. And for those who still say “You’ll never get folk cycling here, Sheffield isn’t Holland,” it’s likely we’ll soon have our first Dutch-style roundabout, where drivers wait for cyclists and walkers. There really will be a new normal for The Outdoor City.

Sheffield City Centre — Grey to Green planting near Millsands

“It lifts my spirits to see that a once neglected area, disconnected from the rest of the City Centre, has now been transformed into a beautiful green space,” says Lucia Lorente-Arnau. “People now have a nice environment for sitting to eat a sandwich at lunchtime or to cycle or take a stroll outside their flat.”

While most of us have been staying at home, Lucia’s team from Sheffield Council’s City Regeneration department have been planting 57 trees, 30,000 flower bulbs, thousands of perennial plants and 350 hardy shrubs around greyer parts of the former inner city ring road. Urban insects and birds have also moved into ten new ‘bug hotels’.

The EU-funded Grey to Green project links up a variety of walking and cycling routes through Sheffield city centre, in the most attractive way the city’s planners and ecologists can imagine.

Rather than pushed out of the way on roads built for quick motor traffic, the idea is that this is how things should be for urban walkers and cyclists from now on.

Castlegate in Sheffield City Centre

Sheffielders are being asked what they think of the plans for their new city centre. While we all hope our city centre traders, bars and cafes will still be there for us when we get to town again, are we ready for the debate about how we actually get there?

Now thousands of S1 workers will have found how easy it is to work from home, what will the city centre be for? A place to work and shop or a place to socialise? Maybe even to run or ride your bike?

“We know from the events of 2020 that local people like the idea of walking and cycling more, they know it’s good for them and in Sheffield we have great countryside and green spaces that are also really good for peoples’ wellbeing and mental health,” says Julie Grocutt, Sheffield Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport and Development.

“What people don’t always realise is that enabling more people to feel safe and happy as they get about on bike or on foot is also really good for the economy — it helps local shops, it gives the city a better atmosphere for new businesses to thrive, and it saves people money that they often then spend with local retailers. And it gives people choice.”

Dame Sarah Storey, Sheffield City Region active travel commissioner, says the evidence shows that the economy stands to get between £3 and £8 back for every pound invested in walking and cycling. (The Department for Transport put the figure even higher for the UK as a whole, at a return of between £4 and £19 for every pound spent).

Sheffield council, the city region and national government are serious about building a better environment to get around under your own steam, and the changes for Sheffield will only increase over coming years.

“We hope active travel becomes more of an option for people,” says Dame Sarah. “We’re in a strong position in Sheffield, where some really high quality schemes are being built. But there is a huge need to reduce short vehicle journeys, and it’s down to the population of Sheffield to look really hard at their own behaviour.”

Every driver has the responsibility not just to drive safely but to ask if they really need to drive at all for their short journeys, she adds. “Using your vehicle as little as possible would be a really good New Year resolution if anyone is still looking for one.”

This spring, the city centre of the Outdoor City will have flower meadows and trees on slow moving city centre streets like Castlegate, Exchange Street and Snig Hill.

Work by Sheffield University shows that commuters are already changing their journeys to take in the natural environment of the city’s ‘Grey to Green’ routes (funded by £1.4 million from the European Regional Development Fund, along with Sheffield City Council and the Government’s Local Growth Fund via the SCR Local Enterprise Partnership.)

The schemes aim to bring wildlife back to the city centre, reduce flooding by replacing concrete with drainage systems hidden under shrubs and trees, and to provide events spaces for the new social S1.

Bug hotel and urban drainage notice

More ‘Grey to Green’ work should continue up onto Angel Street this year, along with an improved walking and cycling route through the Sheaf Valley, a new active travel link for the Upper Don Trail between Wardsend Cemetery and Herries Road, and changes to parts of Nether Edge, Crookes and Kelham Island to prioritise walking and cycling.

There’ll also be a 185 strong e-bike fleet for loan to keyworkers and others through the CycleBoost scheme, along with 5 new e-cargo bikes for companies to try out. (Join the waiting list at

More trees and flowers, more walking and cycling and fewer cars are all part of the future Outdoor City, it’s official, and everyone is invited to join the debate at:

The new plans for Kelham Island, Neepsend and Pitsmoor are now open for all to consider, including a ‘Dutch ‘style’ roundabout prioritising cycling and walking at West Bar, new walking routes from Pitstmoor and Burngreave with priority for foot and pedal travellers at many junctions, a real Active Neighbourhood for Kelham Island with quiet streets for residents and visitors, and a new walking and cycling route all the way through to town from Rutland Road.

The debate will continue, says Dame Sarah, and we’ll all need to listen to all sides, but the logic suggests that road building to accommodate a growing population of motor vehicles is not the answer.

“At a time when we need to be decarbonising and improving air quality, increasing road space only attracts more vehicles,” she says. “We need to keep making the logical argument that it’s not an efficient use of public money to enable more single person vehicle journeys.”

Dame Sarah Storey and colleague Pete Zanzottera in Sheffield City Centre

The changes in motion are about “rebalancing our transport networks” says Julie Grocutt.

“If we enable this then our roads should become less congested and while routes may change, nowhere will be inaccessible. We want to make the city a great place to live for everyone.”