Friday, July 21, 2017

News: Prep work for Rotherham regeneration

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The ink is barely dry on the new Rotherham town centre masterplan but further preparatory work is already taking place around key regeneration sites.

Having flattened the former Tesco store on its acquired Forge Island site, Rotherham Council is set to get to work on the pedestrian bridge linking Forge Island to the town centre.

The plan here is for a £43m leisure development anchored by a cinema and hotel – a formal tender will go out in the Autumn. In the short term, the temporary car park is being extended to 500 spaces.

Work begins next week and will be carried out by Peninsula Access Ltd and is expected to last three weeks. It will see the removal of the roof and sides to make the footbridge "light, bright, and airy." The tender for the work had a guide of £30,000.

The footbridge will be closed during this time and the main pedestrian exit will be via the main road bridge on to Market Street. Businesses in the Riverside Precinct will be open as usual and can be accessed from Corporation Street.

Cllr. Denise Lelliott, Cabinet Member for Jobs and the Local Economy at Rotherham Council said the work was being done in response to resident complaints about anti-social behaviour.

She said: "In the longer term, the bridge will be completely replaced as part of the development of Forge Island as a leisure destination. However, shoppers using the Forge Island car park have told us they do not feel safe using the current bridge because it is enclosed so opening it up will make it feel much more welcoming."

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Work is also imminent on demolishing the former Law Courts that have also been acquired by the Council.

At the same time, work will begin in the Corporation Street, Bridge Street and Frederick Street area - identified as a key gateway to the town centre in Rotherham's masterplan - to improve access for cyclists and pedestrians.

Department of Transport funding, obtained through Sheffield City Region, will enable a number of improvements to take place, including new crossing facilities, landscaping and drainage work.

Discussions are continuing around a new dedicated pedestrian footbridge over the River Don linking the train station and Forge Lane / Bridge Street.

Damien Wilson, Strategic Director for Regeneration and Environment at Rotherham Council, said: "Promoting sustainable travel and making it easier for people to access the town centre by bike and foot are key to our plans to regenerate the town centre.

"This particular route is part of the Transpennine Trail and National Cycle Network, whilst the train station and new tram-train route is a key gateway into the town. These improvements are part of our overall plans to improve this area of the town and we look forward to seeing a much-improved environment for visitors to enjoy.

"The environmental improvements will have a positive effect on the street scene, creating a brighter, more open and accessible space. We hope that this work, coupled with the progress being made on the nearby derelict buildings, will enhance this busy part of the town centre and make it more attractive to all who use it."

Images: RMBC


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News: Innovative AMP companies tackle nuclear decommissioning

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Rapidly expanding engineering design consultancy, Eadon Consulting has secured funding from the UK's innovation agency to develop a new system for decommissioning ageing nuclear facilities.

Eadon works across a number of sectors, with expertise in mechanical, control, hydraulic and structural design and has moved office four times in six years within the AMP Technology Centre on the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) in Rotherham due to the growing nature of the business.

Innovate UK's "Integrated Innovation for Nuclear Decommissioning" competition is specifically aimed at unlocking the potential of specialist small engineering companies, to tackle the £85 billion challenge of decommissioning the Sellafield site. Eadon’s proposed system will enable nuclear decommissioning to be conducted faster, more safely, and at reduced cost.

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The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), Sellafield Ltd and Innovate UK allocated up to £3m to fund innovation projects as part of the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI).

Eadon have formed a bespoke team to develop the "Versatile Decommissioning System", bringing together expertise from a range of engineering disciplines. Team members include offshore engineering experts: Red Engineering; scanning and data manipulation experts PES Scanning (also based on the AMP); Sellafield construction experts Westlakes Engineering; The Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing and Research Centre (also based on the AMP); and the famous ship builder and fabricator Cammell Laird.

James Hill, company director at Eadon Consulting, said: "As a small company of specialist engineers we are ideally placed to solve problems, our size allows us to innovate and quickly develop new ideas. This funding from the UK's Innovation Agency unlocks our potential, allowing us to really focus on the challenges of decommissioning nuclear facilities.

"Collaborating with other small companies means that we can tap into a wealth of knowledge and experience from lots of different industries and pick out all the most useful bits. Our immediate focus in on decommissioning the nuclear site at Sellafield, but the systems we are developing have huge potential for export all over the world."

The project is set to start in August and run for three months. Work will include developing concept designs for new equipment and exploring new techniques for planning and visualisation of decommissioning tasks. On successful completion of the first phase, Innovate UK will release additional funding to develop full working prototypes and start trialling the new system.

The Nuclear AMRC in Rotherham is already working with Sellafield Ltd to slash the cost of making future designs of waste container boxes, potentially saving hundreds of millions of pounds in decommissioning costs.

Tens of thousands of these 3 cubic metre steel boxes will be needed over the next 30 years with each one costing tens of thousands of pounds to produce using existing manufacturing techniques. The research focuses on the two most promising routes for cost reduction identified by Sellafield Ltd – optimising and automating welding of the container; and producing the lid flanges by casting instead of machining.

Eadon Consulting website
Nuclear AMRC website

Images: Sellafield Ltd / Nuclear AMRC


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News: Aardvark Swift wins Develop Award

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Rotherham-based Aardvark Swift has reinforced its standing as one of the UK's top recruitment firms for the video games industry by winning a prestigious award.

Established in 1989, Aardvark Swift was the first recruitment agency to dedicate its services to the mushrooming video games industry. Based at Nightingale Court on the edge of Rotherham town centre, the firm helps major players such as Microsoft, Sony, EA and Nokia recruit the stars of tomorrow. Expanding into new areas such as toys and licensing, managing director Ian Goodall bought the company outright in 2012.

The firm recently picked up the Recruiter Award at the Develop Awards 2017 which aim to celebrate and reward UK and European games developers, focusing purely on creativity, teamwork and inspiring innovation.

In addition to its own achievement, awards were picked up by Aardvark Swift's clients and partners, including Playground Games receiving recognition with the Independent Studio Award and Guerrilla Games being awarded the prestigious title of Studio of the Year.

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Ian Goodall, managing director of Aardvark Swift (pictured, centre), said: "The Develop Awards shines a light on the UK's very best and recognises the hard work that goes into every facet of making a video game.

"We're incredibly grateful and humbled to have won this year's Develop Award for best recruiter, and look forward to helping studios make great games with our award-winning services in the years to come."

The event was held alongside Develop:Brighton, a conference, expo and networking event that brings together the game dev community.

As well as highlighting the industry's best talent, the awards also played host to the Search for a Star prize giving ceremony.

Part of the Grads in Games initiative, Search For A Star is a series of critically acclaimed annual talent competitions, with challenges designed and assessed by games industry professionals. Prizes include guaranteed opportunities for internships and jobs at leading UK games studios including Sumo Digital and Playground Games.

In 2015, 80% of students who qualified for the second round were able to get a games industry job on graduation. Launched in 2014 by Aardvark Swift, Grads in Games has the mission to unify all games graduate activities, information, advice and jobs in one place.

This year, Search for a Star Code winner Kyle Hobdey, from the University of Central Lancashire, joined VFX winner Niels Dewitte from Howest, and Environment Art winner Jake Missing from Sheffield Hallam University to collect their well-deserved prizes on stage.

Aardvark Swift website

Images: Develop Awards


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Thursday, July 20, 2017

News: MML electrification stopped in its tracks

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The Government has pulled the plug on completing a £1.5 billion project to electrify the key rail line to Sheffield.

The Midland Mainline (MML) is a key route between London St Pancras and the Sheffield city region via the East Midlands. The scheme was set to deliver more seats, improved performance and more space for freight on one of Britain's oldest railways.

Now, instead of the line being electrified beyond Kettering, new bi-mode intercity trains are to be introduced from 2022 that are able to run on both electrified and non-electrified lines. Currently, some trains operating on the route are 40 years old.

Franchising is underway for new operators of the route and one of the key aims is to separate the intercity and commuter markets to improve the services for both. Long distance services from Nottingham and Sheffield are expected to be cut by up to 20 minutes, by reducing the number of calls to pick up commuters, alongside the line speed improvements. Journey timnes from Sheffield to London are set to be around two hours at peak times.

Delivering over 1,000 additional seats in a peak hour, an increase of more than 50%, is expected to relieve over-crowding on all East Midlands services to and from London.

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Network Rail, the owners and operators of Britain's rail infrastructure, had planned to electrify the Midland Mainline north of Bedford, working north. It was set to reach Corby at the end of 2017; Nottingham and Derby at the end of 2019 and Sheffield at the end of 2020.

The project was controversially "paused" by the Government who had concerns over the performance of Network Rail. A new Network Rail chief, Sir Peter Hendy was brought in and proposed that line speed and capacity improvement works already in hand were added to, with electrification of the line north of Bedford to Kettering and Corby by 2019 and the line North of Kettering to Leicester, Derby/Nottingham and Sheffield by 2023.

Earlier this year, the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport asking him to reaffirm the Government's commitment to phase 2 of the MML electrification to Sheffield by 2023.

Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Sheffield City Council had been making the case to the Government on measures needed to boost the city region's rail services. These include new Inter-City-style high speed trains; six trains an hour from London St Pancras to Corby, Derby, Nottingham or Sheffield; and three trains per hour from London to Sheffield with one train heading on beyond Sheffield to Leeds and one to Manchester/Liverpool.

A Government statement said that new technology meant that "we no longer need to electrify every line to achieve the same significant improvements to journeys, and we will only electrify lines where it delivers a genuine benefit to passengers."

The provision of new bi-mode trains will now "replace plans to electrify the line north of Kettering to Sheffield and Nottingham, improving journeys sooner, without the need for wires and masts on the whole route, and causing less disruption to services.

The Government also added that there will be further investment to come to ensure Sheffield is HS2-ready. Electrification is needed on the HS2 spur line to serve Chesterfield and Sheffield.

For Rotherham, it continues to be a waiting game. As the HS2 line is set to head through the borough to Leeds, work on a potential parkway station continues. A northern loop out of Sheffield Midland to create faster links to Leeds is expected, and in theory could serve Rotherham, but nothing has been decided on this yet despite the recent HS2 announcement.

It is also the case that a new £14m mainline station is the the only practical and cost effective way to enhance rail connectivity to Rotherham.

In 2015, Rail North, a group of transport organisation across the North of England, put forward that the Northern Rail route between Sheffield and Doncaster that passes through Rotherham and the Dearne Valley should be electrified at the earliest opportunity.

Chris Grayling MP, the Secretary of State for Transport, said: "The Government has agreed that an increased volume of renewals activity will be needed over the course of control period 6 [spending between 2019-2024], to maintain safety and improve on current levels of reliability and punctuality, which in places fall short of the levels that passengers rightly expect.

"Before committing to the specific levels of funding required, I have decided that the government requires more assurance on the likely costs of the work programme.

"Network Rail's progress on improving its efficiency in recent years has fallen short of my expectations. Improving efficiency is vital if we are to maximise the value of taxpayer spending on the railway in driving improvements for passengers and freight shippers.

"The government will therefore carry out further work to examine the approach to setting appropriate levels of maintenance and renewals activity for control period 6 and to improving Network Rail's efficiency."

Network Rail website

Images: Network Rail


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News: Council tests waters on town centre housing

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Rotherham Council is seeking the thoughts of developers on how best to bring forward housing on "go early" town centre sites.

The recently published masterplan places a greater emphasis on town centre living and leisure, as opposed to traditional retail uses, in continuing the regeneration of Rotherham town centre.

The authority has secured £6.8m under the Government's expanding affordable housing programme and was named in the first wave of 30 local authority partnerships under the Government's £1.2 billion Starter Homes Land Fund – selected on the basis of their potential for early delivery.

Schemes worth around £40m have been identified and the sites under Council ownership on Sheffield Road - the former baths site, now used as a car park, and the now vacant Millfold House - are frontrunners for development, with the Council wanting to bring them to market in the next six months.

Having recently held its first Housing Developer Summit with a focus on the town centre, "soft market testing" is now underway, and the Council keen to hear from developers on the two specific sites where between 130 and 150 apartments and houses could be built.

The authority wants informal opinions on tenure mix, demand, pace of delivery, challenges and the best model or partnership for development. Formal tendering is likely to get underway in October.

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The masterplan states that: "New town centre residential accommodation should comprise a mixture of both apartments and traditional housing to appeal to a broader market. This would also attract more residents to the Town Centre and further contribute to securing additional footfall which would provide a further boost to Rotherham.

"The high priority site for the partnership is the former swimming baths site at Sheffield Road, which is a key market-creating site. It is envisaged in the masterplan as mainly contemporary distinctive high density urban housing."

The brief adds that: "These homes will be a catalyst for future development and must set the right tone and attract people to want to buy into Rotherham's vision for the town centre. Inspiration has been drawn from key developments at Sheffield's Kelham Island which combine modern design with preservation of the area's industrial heritage."

The Council has been developing proposals to kickstart housing construction in the town centre where financial viability is an issue for the private sector due to site constraints and values. Consultation with estate agents and developers has shown a strong appetite for new homes in the town centre where transport connections are being improved with the addition of tram-train services.

12 sites in the town centre have been identified that could deliver 1,000 homes in the next few years. Further work has narrowed this down to six sites and 400 homes. Other sites include two sites on the riverside opposite Forge Island, the former Henley's garage site on Wellgate, and on the remaining land at Doncaster Gate where work on the new £13m university campus is getting underway.

On financing the developments, the masterplan adds: "Potential investors have indicated funds in-excess-of £20m could be directed to Rotherham in terms of patient finance to create the residential market. This would align with the scale of the opportunity envisaged by the masterplan.

"The Council's starter homes programme has also secured potential long term loan-based investment of the same order. With success, the scale of development will increase. Other private investment in new homes could easily reach that level also."



Images: RMBC / WYG / Google Maps


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