Friday, December 7, 2018

News: Rotherham Council wants to stop HS2 in its tracks

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Councillors in Rotherham don't want to see the £55.7 billion HS2 project reach Yorkshire.

In July 2017, the Secretary of State for Transport confirmed the preferred route for HS2 project from Crewe to Manchester and from the West Midlands to Leeds (known as Phase 2b). A stop at Chesterfield and a spur to Sheffield is included and the fast route to Leeds would go through the East of Rotherham.

With further details recently released on the impact of the building of the route through areas of Rotherham such as Aston, Thurcroft and Bramley, a motion was put forward by the opposition group and debated at a recent full Council meeting.

The initial motion was amended by the controlling group on the Council and seeks to call on the Government to abandon the Leeds leg of the project. The initial motion was to call on the Government to cancel the HS2 project in its entirety.

Members discussed their personal feelings on the project with many agreeing that the negative impacts, such as adverse environmental impacts and the impact during construction, outweigh the perceived benefits of the scheme.

Members also want to see Government spending re-allocated to address more local transport issues.

Rotherham Council's previous stance was a preference for the South Yorkshire HS2 station to be at Meadowhall on a through route to Leeds.

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During the debate, Cllr. Chris Read, leader of Rotherham Council, said: "We are not against the principle [of HS2]. When I talk to my colleagues in Birmingham, they are already seeing significant investment in the middle of Birmingham predicated on high speed 2 coming from London ... We talk to our friends and our colleagues in Chesterfield and they are already starting to see economic investment coming in, even with the plan - and I think it's the wrong plan - for this spur route, which won't deliver all the benefits to South Yorkshire.

"The issue for the Birmingham to Leeds line, and the reason I think we feel shortchanged by it, and the Government needed to take money out by cancelling the Meadowhall option, is because the economic benefit has always been less for that part of the route. Because there are fewer people that make the journey. If it wasn't now for the city of Leeds and the demand from the Leeds / Bradford conurbation, it wouldn't be going ahead full stop.

"They couldn't make the demand stack up on their own model for a South Yorkshire stop which is why we've not got one. So it would never get here, spur or no spur. It is the weakest economic case."

Cllr Read added that the Council had met with the (now resigned) new chair of HS2 who admitted that the line to Leeds will definitely happen so long as there continues to be support for it and lobbying for it.

Whilst bills for other phases have reached Royal Assent, bills for Phase 2b have not yet gone through Parliament and Cllr Read concluded that by showing opposition against the Leeds leg through Rotherham: "This is a fight that we can win."

HS2 website

Images: HS2

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News: Updated Gulliver's Valley plans in

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Theme park operator, Gulliver's, has updated its masterplan to relocate some of the features of its Gulliver's Valley development in Rotherham after detailed surveys highlighted the precise location of old mineworkings on the Pithouse West site.

Planning permission was granted in March last year for the £37m leisure resort at Rother Valley - the first of Gulliver's sites in the UK to encompass all their major family entertainment elements in one location with new attractions exclusive to Rotherham.

Expected to be built in phases over 12 - 15 years, some construction work has begun on site which was previously home to Brookhouse Colliery and opencast workings. The opencast coal mine was worked until 1995 and is further underlain by mine shafts leading to deep coal mines.

Rothbiz reported in August that detailed ground investigations led to a re-think on certain aspects of the scheme, such as the second hotel.

Now a new masterplan submitted to Rotherham Council for approval shows two buildings that have been moved slightly in order to avoid mine shafts. The site's main entrance road has also been made one-way for an approximate 100m stretch, in order to satisfy the Council's highways department.

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The Gulliver's Adventure Park and Wilderness Hotel, both earmarked for later phases, are being relocated and the dimensions have changed slightly.

A more compact junction onto Mansfield Road has been designed where a simplified arrangement and the removal of the in-site vehicle crossing point are expected to provide simpler, smoother traffic movements.

Plans, drawn up by County Planning Ltd, state: "The scale of the variations to the approved plans are minimal by comparison to the scale and complexity of the approved scheme. There are no adverse impacts and no significant environmental impacts effects as a result of the changes to the approved plans."

Rothbiz reported in October that £1.5m of investment could support the Gulliver's Valley leisure development and help bring forward further accommodation into the first phase. The cash is being set aside by the Sheffield city region to support the first phase that is set to open in 2020. It would enable Gulliver's to invest £6m and accelerate the creation of accommodation on the site.

Gulliver's Valley website

Images: Gulliver's

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News: Developer sought for Swinton scheme

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Rotherham Council is preparing to appoint developers to undertake a multimillion pound redevelopment scheme to transform an area at the heart of Swinton.

The cabinet and commissioners at Rotherham Council signed off on a Development Brief for Swinton Town Centre in 2017 and a tender exercise was used to help secure interest from developers to work on the scheme.

The Council's Cabinet is now being asked to agree plans to seek a development partner for the project. If approved, the partner will produce a masterplan and subsequently redevelop the site.

The site totals nearly seven acres and includes the cleared disused council offices at Queen Street that suffered a fire back in 2015 and the former Swimming Pool and Squash Court in Charnwood Street that were demolished in 2016 having suffered an arson attack.

The site of the former Charnwood House care home, which was earmarked for demolition, is also included and the authority secured cabinet and commissioner approval to acquire an adjacent site.

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A cabinet paper, states: "Over the last few years various services have been relocated and buildings demolished leaving a cleared site which is in need of redevelopment. There remains a strong community with well-used but tired facilities. To bring about regeneration and improve the Town Centre new housing and a community focused redevelopment is proposed."

Eight responses were received through the earlier exercise, demonstrating a healthy appetite for the scheme. A competitive procurement process is set to lead to the developers producing a masterplan, together with a financial appraisal and commentary which details their capability and capacity to deliver, and the rationale behind the masterplan.

The vacant site could support a minimum of 70 housing units and the public realm is set to be improved. However, the Council wants to retain ownership of the retail parade.

The development brief will also encourage bidders to rationalise the community facilities (library, civic hall, community hub) into one building, either by providing a new building or through the refurbishment of an existing building.

Cllr. Denise Lelliott, Cabinet Member for Jobs and the Local Economy at Rotherham Council, said: "If Cabinet approves the proposals, we can look forward to moving towards an exciting development that will not only create jobs, but will also create lasting benefit in terms of new homes and community facilities."

If approved, the latest tender process will begin in January 2019 and complete in May 2019.

Images: Google Maps

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

News: Air quality measures set to ban lorries on Rotherham road

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Draft proposals to address illegal levels of air pollution in Rotherham have been revealed - including reducing speed limits on the Parkway and banning HGVs on the A629 between the town centre and junction 35 of the M1.

Rothbiz reported in 2017 that Rotherham (alongside Sheffield and Doncaster) is one of 38 English local authorities with one or more roads forecast persistently to exceed NO2 legal limits based on initial modelling. The local authorities have been charged with coming up with local plans for reducing air pollution or risk the Government imposing schemes to charge users of congested roads like the Parkway.

Rotherham and Sheffield Council have been working together on coming up with measures to deliver air quality improvements as quickly as possible. Sheffield's proposals were outlined last month and show that Sheffield will need to introduce a Category C (CAZ C) charging zone in order to achieve legal compliance by 2021.

The charges will only apply to the most polluting vehicles such as buses, taxis, lorries and vans within Sheffield's inner ring road. The Council is not proposing to charge private cars.

For Rotherham, a paper to be discussed by the Council's cabinet explains that measures will address issues around the most polluting vehicles and will be focused in particular locations across the borough.

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The M1 remains a major cause of air pollution for Sheffield and Rotherham but responsibility falls to Highways England rather than the local authorities. A multi-million pound stretch of "smart motorway" has been created through the region to address air quality and keep traffic flowing.

The Council has identified that on the A630 Parkway in Rotherham, an 8% reduction in NO2 levels in the air are required. Here, the introduction of a charging zone in Sheffield and a proposed 50mph speed limit are expected to reduce NO2 levels. A £42m project to widen the Parkway in Rotherham is planned with the Council hopeful of securing Government cash.

On Rawmarsh Hill (A633) a 6% reduction in NO2 levels is required and measures include upgrading the fleet of buses using Government funding to at least Euro VI, which delivers an almost 95% reduction in emissions against earlier Euro standards. However, the paper does add that in order for full compliance to be delivered around half of the scheduled buses from Rawmarsh Hill would need to be diverted onto other routes.

The highest level of Euro VI bus that is available (Euro VI 6B) would help reduce emission levels on Fitzwilliam Road through Eastwood where a 2% reduction in NO2 is required.

At Wortley Road and Upper Wortley Road, Kimberworth and Thorpe Hesley (A629), a 3% reduction in NO2 is required. The Council proposes a HGV ban on the northbound Upper Wortley Road and Wortley Road towards the M1 junction, through the use of a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO). Studies show that heavy goods vehicles make up only about 3% of total traffic, but create 15% of the NOx emissions on Rotherham's roads.

Another proposal involves using Government funding to enable local businesses to upgrade their vehicles. Government funding could also be used for taxi drivers licensed in Rotherham to change their vehicles, including a mixture of grant funding and interest free loans.

No figures are mentioned but Rotherham Council said it will seek "significant funding" from the Government's Implementation Fund and Clean Air Fund.

Cllr. Emma Hoddinott, Cabinet Member for Waste, Roads and Community Safety at Rotherham Council, said: "These are practical proposals which should ensure that the Council meets its legal requirements whilst keeping our commitment not to propose a congestion charge in Rotherham. If they are accepted by the Government, these proposals will mean new cleaner buses on key routes, and support for cleaner taxis and light good vehicles, improving air quality whilst also protecting our local economy."

If approved by the Council's cabinet, the plan will go to the Government for its approval. A full public consultation about the proposals will take place in early 2019.

Images: Google / SYPTE

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News: More details on Forge Island deal

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Rotherham Council is planning to enter a head lease for the proposed multimillion leisure development on Forge Island in order to secure private sector funding for the majority of the works.

Having secured the land from Tesco, and surrounding land such as the law courts, the authority went out to the market earlier this year in an effort to realise its vision for a £60m leisure-led development on the key town centre site.

Muse Developments was chosen as the Council's preferred partner with a proposal that includes a cinema, food and drink outlets and a hotel. The leisure facilities will be set within an attractive public space and will include a new pedestrian bridge connecting to the rest of the town centre.

Discussion over legal agreements continue with the Council's cabinet now asked to approve the way forward.

The successful bid submitted by Muse included options for the delivery model such as the Council providing the capital funding for the scheme and a "head lease" approach.

The capital funding approach is being discounted as it would see the authority take on "significant additional borrowing" and taking on all of the development risk.

Members of the cabinet are being asked to approve the head lease approach which requires that the developer raises funding for the total development costs and builds out the scheme in return for the Council taking a head lease of the completed development over a fixed term.

The precise details of the development costs, head lease rent and income are not yet known but the first phase is expected to be a £35m project at current prices, which will be funded initially by the developer partner and their investors. Muse is part of the Morgan Sindall Group plc.

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Documents show that the Council would take on a head lease for the development for a 35 year term, with no break clause. At the end of that period the Council has the option to purchase the development for £1. The Council, as head lessor, will sublet to and collect rents from operators, which will generate an income stream to fund the head lease costs.

A paper to the Council's cabinet, states: "Based on current information and assumptions it is anticipated that the project will be self-financing over the 35 year period and the business rates growth should aid the wider economy."

Risks include the Council receiving income that would not be sufficient to cover costs if properties become empty through tenants taking break clauses or going into administration. The Council will also be responsible for the facilities management and repair and maintenance of the common areas of the development.

Under the proposal, the Council does not take on the head lease until the various phases of the development are completed and a sufficient number of sub-tenants have been secured and have entered in to lease agreements, thereby minimising the financial risk for the Council.

In order to de-risk the project further, the authority is also pushing ahead with multimillion pound flood defences for the site.

A draft timeline has Muse and the Council working towards a planning application for the leisure scheme being submitted early in 2019 after agreements over the lease are made. Work is set to begin later in 2019 with the first phase opening in 2020.

Muse Developments website
Forge Island website

Images: Muse / RMBC

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