Friday, June 23, 2017

News: "Ambitious but deliverable" masterplan for Rotherham Town Centre

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Developers and investors are lining up to get involved in the multimillion opportunities in the new Rotherham town centre masterplan where the focus is on implementation and being ambitious but realistic.

Launched this week, the masterplan has been developed by consultants at WYG working with the local Council and stakeholders. Rothbiz reported in April on how the idea is for it, and the town, to be commercially focused and pragmatic, but bold at the same time.

Catalyst projects include the proposed £43m leisure hub on Forge Island and further residential developments to boost the vitality of the town. The plans also show the potential for a new theatre and arts centre (cgi below) on the former Law Courts site nearby and feasibility studies will be carried out on the prospects. There is also the potential long term acquisition of the adjacent Police Station.

Unlike the 25 year vision of previous plans under the Rotherham Renaissance banner, the new plans are aimed at giving the town an immediate boost.

WYG's project director Andrew Clarke, who originates from Rotherham, said: "The plan is about picking up the momentum. Rotherham needs this plan and the projects now, not in five or ten years time. The town needs a big project to transform people's perceptions.

"With a focus on deliverability, the difference here is that we have got a Council being pro-active and acquiring key sites as the plan is finalised. In some cases the answers are already there. We have a number of high profile regeneration projects like the higher education campus and redevelopment of the Interchange where the money is already in place and work is due to start in the Summer."

From now until 2020, it is envisaged that anything between £130m and 160m will be invested in the town.

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The masterplan is set to be an important tool in marketing the wider town centre to potential investors and encouraging further regeneration and improvements. Those behind the plan admitted that they had been surprised by the level of investor appetite, even before its publication, and expect it to create "the right time" for projects like the redevelopment of the Guest & Chrimes site by the football club to be rekindled.

It is hoped that a "new and exciting" destination leisure offering could be created on the foundry site, with potential for very significant numbers of visitors each year.

Damien Wilson, strategic director of regeneration and environment at Rotherham Council, said: "We have had at least 12 investors and developers knocking on our door, wanting to see the plans and the briefs. Local and national developers and institutional investors."

Soft-market testing has been underway alongside property firm, LSH and a brief was taken to MIPIM, the global property event. With Forge Island, which is set to remain as a car park whilst plans are finalised, a more detailed brief is set to go out in September.

The masterplan follows a recent report by industry analysts at Bilfinger GVA that concluded that comparison goods retailer demand for the town centre is likely to be subdued and advised the Council to focus on trying to maintain the current comparison goods role of the town centre in the face of sustained competition and look at other sectors to add vibrancy and vitality.

Sectors such as the under-represented leisure, food and drink sector, and creating more housing are given prominence in the plans which adds that "everyday retailing will continue in Rotherham, but it will not lead to Rotherham's resurgence." Instead the focus will be on diversifying and creating a high quality offer that is different to Parkgate and Meadowhall with independent and unqiue retailers.

Cllr. Denise Lelliott, cabinet member for jobs and the local economy at Rotherham Council, said: "It is hard not to get carried away a little bit because there are so many projects, with some happening right now. It is an exciting time for the town centre which we know is important to people.

"We want a family friendly offer, attracting people into to town who can then stay for longer. I like the idea for the Markets Complex - opening the side facing Drummond Street and Tesco. The markets kept Rotherham alive over the past few years so we are keen to support existing traders and businesses, here and across town."

Details and further images on some of the projects can be seen here.

People can also view the plans and speak to consultants at the Masterplan exhibition which will take place in All Saints' Square (in the old Thornton's unit) on Wednesday June 28 from 11am until 7pm. There will also be a display of the concept drawings for people to view in the Riverside library gallery in the town centre up to the 6th July.

Images: RMBC / WYG


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News: Key projects in Rotherham town centre masterplan

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Rothbiz takes a look at the key sites and "catalyst" projects in the Rotherham town centre masterplan that was launched this week.

Forge Island
Seen as the major catalyst project in picking up the momentum for the town's regeneration, the plans reiterate the desire for a leisure, retail and residential development around the riverside. Previously the Rotherham Forge & Rolling Mills, the 1.57 hectare site has recently been fully cleared following the relocation of Tesco across town in 2014. Currently used as a car park which will be extended for at least another year, the site is now owned by Rotherham Council.

Developers, investors and operators are showing a keen interest in working up proposals for a five screen cinema, 60-bed hotel, food outlets, bars and cafes. A 300+ space multi storey car park is also in the plans and a feasibility study is being carried out on the potential of a new theatre and arts space on the site of the former Law Courts, which is also owned by the Council. A hydro-electric power system could be incorporated on the weir.

Andrew Clarke, a director of urban design at consultants WYG who was project director for the masterplan said: "Forge Island is key and work is already underway following the Council's acquisition.

"Developers are telling us that there is a market for a commercial development like this, including brands in the food and drink sector. Yes, it is commercial but it is also about creating a new, high quality riverside frontage."

The Council is searching for a development partner and is set to take a detailed brief to the market in September 2017.

The Riverside
Housing is set to play a key role in bringing more people into Rotherham town centre. Government cash has also already been secured for £30m of housing development on Council-owned sites. One of which is the site of the former Sheffield Road swimming baths which has the potential for 158 units.

It is hoped that the masterplan will also stimulate further residential development nearby, for example on the land between Westgate and Main Street which is earmarked for a mix of uses, predominately housing, but is currently home to the Royal Mail sorting office, BT's telephone exchange and land used for car parking.

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Damien Wilson, strategic director of regeneration and environment at Rotherham Council, said: "The focus will be on quality, with homes, including car parking, in a riverside location. With improved connectivity like the tram-train coming next year, we have to think about our relationship to Sheffield. Being able to offer people more for their money with good connectivity presents a good opportunity."

Proposals also show an amount of demolition on Corporation Street following discussions with property owners and tenants. Retaining the former Natwest Bank, further leisure, retail and residential development would be enhanced by open space between the Minster, Minster Gardens and Forge Island.

The Markets
The popularity of the markets has "kept the town alive" but parts of the complex on Drummond Street are underutilised. Following consultation, the masterplan proposes a simple solution to enhance the existing site and improve linkages to the nearby £40m Tesco Extra store. The demolition of Council-owned units around the edge of the outdoor covered market is proposed with a new attractive stepped entrance and space for a new community advice hub.

Andrew Clarke explained: "The entrances to the market are not particularly attractive, especially onto Drummond Street. By removing some of the building and improving the public realm improves the visual appearance and opens up the architectural features that are already there such as the roof canopies."

Further public realm improvements could also take place in Effingham Square near Tesco and the bus station and "College Fields" could be created between the market and college campus.

The Interchange
Funding is in place for a £12.5m revamp of the town's bus station with architects at Jefferson Sheard well underway with the latest plans for the site which also includes a multi-storey car park and retail units.

Doncaster Gate
Led by the RNN Group, work is due to start imminently on a £12m Higher Education (HE) campus that is scheduled for completion in autumn 2018. Key to boosting the local economy, the 44,000 sq ft campus will also provide enough space to eventually house 1,000 students, boosting footfall in the town centre.

Doncaster Gate could also be connected to the heritage-led regeneration that has already taken place on Rotherham's High Street. With the unique Grimm & Co on the corner, transport and public realm works could tie the two together and enhance the setting of the magical literacy charity.
Guest & Chrimes
With the aim to create a focus for recreation and sporting activity in the town, mixed leisure development proposals are being prepared by Rotherham United Football Club, who controls the site via a long leasehold. Whilst proposals are being finalised by the club, the masterplanners have mocked up a proposed vision for the Grade II listed building turned into a "new and exciting destination leisure offering, with potential for very significant numbers of visitors each year."

Main Street
Most recently used as a nightclub and car parking relating to the Council offices, proposals here to compliment the town centre include a new larger format discount-convenience food store along with ancillary large format retail units alongside a drive-thru café / food and drink unit.

Images: RMBC / RUFC


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Thursday, June 22, 2017

News: Gulliver's excited for Rotherham site

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Gulliver's, the firm behind a proposed £37m leisure resort in Rotherham, has reiterated its commitment to the Rother Valley site that is bigger than all of its current parks combined.

Planning permission was granted earlier this year subject to a number of conditions and the family-owned business is purchasing around 250 acres of the restored former colliery and opencast site from Rotherham Council.

The scheme is expected to be built over 12 - 15 years in a number of phases. Phase one includes the main Gulliver's theme park with three themed areas, the entrance hub and castle, and is set to open in 2020.

Providing an update at the recent meeting of the Rotherham Pioneers, Richard Welby, who worked his way up to becoming a resort manager for Gulliver's, conveyed the excitement that the established firm has for the Rotherham site.

Welby said: "Our board was unanimous in deciding on Rotherham as our fourth site. It has a bigger sq ft than all of our current sites combined and is an amazing site."

The operators of theme parks in Warrington, Matlock Bath and Milton Keynes, developed the plans for the first of their sites in the UK to encompass all their major family entertainment elements in one location with new attractions exclusive to Rotherham such as rides and attractions relating to transport and classic cars.

Welby added that he expects the £37m capital investment to "significantly rise."

The proposals are expected to create around 400 jobs and have a total annual operating net economic impact on the local economy of £11.6m.

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The overall site is approximately 98 hectares in area comprising the northern part of the Rother Valley Country Park. 215,000 sq ft of buildings are proposed, including: Main Street featuring an indoor, year round attraction including a splash zone, interactive play areas and NERF zone; five key ride areas providing over 40 rides and attractions; three hotels; themed holiday lodges, themed leisure facilities; and a spa and fitness centre.

Further details of the attractions set for Gulliver's Valley, including Liliput Castle, a log flume, Antelope, Pirate Coaster, Tower Ride, farm park and pet resort, can be found here.

Discussing some of the features and attractions, Welby added: "We are not in competition with Rother Valley, what we do will compliment the offer at the county park. People in the industry laughed when we told them that some parts of our park will be accessed for free but we think it is really important."

Public rights of way have been incorporated within the scheme without the need for diversions. A number of courtesy footpaths have also been included which will be available for use during daylight hours.
The Rotherham site is also set to include a "Dream Village" which the company had been looking to do for a number of years and has now found the perfect site for. The concept involves seriously and terminally ill children, together with children with special needs, given the chance of a lifetime to enjoy cost-free respite weeks and much needed getaway.

Speaking with experience, Richard said: "This will have national significance. Again, it doesn't make great business sense to invest in something that will be given away for free, but it is really important for us to do it."

Rotherham Council has long had ambitions for the Pit House West site to be transformed into a landmark leisure / tourism development on a national and international scale. Agreements relating to the YES! project and Visions of China developments were terminated due to the lack of progress.

Welby concluded: "We don't have investors or shareholders and, as a family firm, if we don't have the money in the bank, we don't do it.

"We are not another pie in the sky project, we are not another broken promise. We are coming!"

Rotherham Pioneers is an exclusive group for Rotherham businesses who want to promote the town, celebrate all that is good, and grow the Rotherham business community.

Gulliver's Valley website
Rotherham Pioneers website

Images: Gulliver's


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News: AME Group looks ahead as it celebrates 20 years in business

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AME Group, a leading prototype manufacturer that is based in Dinnington, is looking to develop its product design business as it celebrates 20 years since starting up in a concrete outbuilding at founder, Ian Jones' Rotherham home.

The innovative company combines a team of creative designers and technical designers who work on new products and create high-specification prototypes using 3D printing technology for customers including Dyson, GlaxoSmithKline, Hornby, Morphy Richards and Unilever.

The business was founded in 1997 after managing director Ian Jones - a mechanical engineering graduate, who cut his teeth working at the Selby coalfield - was made redundant from his job with British Coal.

Seeing the potential of 3D printing technology for prototyping, Ian drew up a business plan and raised enough money to buy an early print machine.

"When it arrived, it was absolutely rubbish," Jones recalls. "I am not sure it managed to produce one successful part. It was very slow and, in retrospect, had been launched too early. The positive side was that it opened a lot of doors to prospective clients and ultimately led me to discover other more reliable technologies and partners that were already using them."

One of AME Group's first clients was Stanley Tools, and the success of the partnership resulted in AME investing in new technology and premises.

Ian's long-standing friend and MBA qualified manager Paul Howell joined the business as joint managing director and co-owner and the Dinnington headquarters were built on the site of a former South Yorkshire colliery in 2006. The premises house a growing design team and state-of-the-art prototyping workshop.

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Jones (pictured, right) said of the growing business: "We had become highly skilled at prototyping but we knew there was an opportunity to move upstream and get closer to our clients by using our expertise in product design. Securing work from globally renowned manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble showed that our approach was right."

Showing that the business is "not just about drawing pretty pictures," several innovative start-up businesses have been incubated at the AME Group who helped them to turn their ideas into commercially successful and market leading products. One example being the Identicom product, now the UK's most widely deployed dedicated lone worker device, that saw SoloProtect (formerly Connexion2) grow from Dinnington to new purpose built premises in Sheffield following a multimillion pound takeover.

AME employs 22 people and has a turnover of £1.5m. Having started out as a prototyping specialist, the future for AME Group is focused on developing its product design business. "We want to increase our design revenues over the next three to five years," says Ian "and continue to deliver the very best in innovative product design services, developing market leading products solutions for our clients, helping their businesses experience commercial success."

The quality of the work produced was recently recognised with a prestigious Red Dot product design award for its work on JigTech Pro, an innovative device that enables door handles to be fitted in minutes.

Jones concluded: "I'm proud of the fact that we have traded very successfully throughout the ups and downs of a changing economy but, most of all, I'm proud of the way the business has developed its staff. Several people have been with us for more than 15 years. Paul and I are not micro managers. We give freedom to the team to grow.

“We are not a massive company but we have a highly credible and experienced team that inspires confidence from a diverse portfolio of clients that see us as a strategic product development partner."

AME Group website

Images: AME Group


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News: Greening launches Social Mobility Employer Index

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Justine Greening MP, the Rotherham-born Secretary of State for Education, and Minister for Women and Equalities, has helped to launch a new index to encourage firms to share their initiatives and progress in becoming more inclusive employers and to reveal which sectors and companies are taking the issue of social mobility most seriously.

The Social Mobility Employer Index is a joint initiative between the Social Mobility Foundation and the Social Mobility Commission, in partnership with the City of London Corporation. It ranks Britain's employers for the first time on the actions they are taking to ensure they are open to accessing and progressing talent from all backgrounds and it showcases progress towards improving social mobility.

Research has consistently shown that people from more affluent backgrounds take a disproportionate number of the best jobs and that employers tend to disproportionately employ graduates who went to private schools and elite universities.

Having previously talked about finding and nurturing "rough diamonds," the MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields spoke at the launch of the index. Greening said: "I think talent is spread evenly throughout our country, throughout our communities; and fundamentally our country would be better the more we can unlock all of that. I think we can change the internal plumbing of our country to make it more socially mobile.

"We don't want people to just be going into jobs. We want them to be going into careers where they can continue to develop themselves and their ideas and their potential throughout their whole life, not just at the beginning of it.

"That's where business comes in. That's also where communities and civil society comes in. The launch of this Index today is about starting to put some numbers and evidence around how we can do that systematically and at scale."

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The Conservative minister, who attended Oakwood Comprehensive School and Thomas Rotherham College, also talked about growing up in the borough. She added: "We do need to recognise that there are a myriad of barriers – some of them big but some of them small – that stack up against people who are starting perhaps from further behind. People who, when we talk about a level playing field, are the ones furthest away from having it.

"I certainly remember from my own childhood growing up in Rotherham it was a very difficult time, actually. Many of the children growing up in that town, including myself, saw our parents lose their jobs and you felt like you were a long way from seeing opportunity on your doorstep.

"This steady realisation as quite a young child for me, that to get opportunity I was going to have to work a long time, and very hard, just to get myself into a position to be able to start to have some opportunities.

"I knew also that the beginning of that was education and probably being able to go university. Which is why the fact that so many more disadvantaged children are now getting into university for the first time, why people like me back in the 80s and 90s are no longer the norm and actually it’s pretty normal for people from those backgrounds to get to university now, why that’s so important."

The first comprehensive school educated secretary of state for education studied at Southampton University, earning an MBA from the London Business School and used to work in business.

The banking, legal and professional sectors make up the bulk of the top 50 employers in the index. Rolls Royce Plc enters at number 21. The Derby firm has a £110m casting facility on the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) in Rotherham and works along side the AMRC Training Centre to bring through the manufacturing workforce of the future.

Social Mobility Foundation website

Images: DfE


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