Friday, May 25, 2018

News: Bunnings pulls out of Rotherham, all of UK

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Just five months after opening a Bunnings Warehouse in Rotherham, Australian retail giant, Wesfarmers has announced that it is selling up and pulling out of the UK market.

Following a comprehensive review of the business, Wesfarmers announced that it has agreed to divest the Homebase business in the United Kingdom and Ireland to a company associated with Hilco Capital.

Keen to climb up the ladder in the £38 billion a year UK home improvement and gardening market, the AUS$66 billion turnover Wesfarmers Group acquired the struggling Homebase chain in February 2016 for £340m. The company announced plans to invest up to £500m rolling out the Bunnings Warehouse format in the UK and Ireland over a five year plus timeframe.

The store at the Northfields Retail Park at Parkgate was formerly occupied by B&Q but was vacant since June 2016. Opening in December 2017 and creating 80 new full and part-time jobs, the first Bunnings opening in the North of England measures over 70,000 sq ft and offers customers more than 30,000 leading home improvement and garden products.

Executives have confirmed that the Rotherham store and the other 23 Bunnings pilot stores will convert to the Homebase brand promptly following the completion of the deal.

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Hilco Capital specialises in restructuring and refinancing other companies. Current investments include HMV and Staples' UK retail business. It was brought in to support Focus DIY and its owners Cerberus Capital in 2007. The DIY chain entered administration in 2011.

Hilco is acquiring all Homebase assets, including the Homebase brand, its store network, freehold property, property leases and inventory for "a nominal amount."

Wesfarmers said that it expects to record a loss on disposal of £200m to £230m in the group's 2018 full-year financial results.

Rob Scott, managing director at Wesfarmers, said: "While the review confirmed the business is capable of returning to profitability over time, further capital investment is necessary to support the turnaround. The materiality of the opportunity and risks associated with turnaround are not considered to justify the additional capital and management attention required from Bunnings and Wesfarmers.

"Homebase was acquired by Wesfarmers in 2016. The investment has been disappointing, with the problems arising from poor execution post-acquisition being compounded by a deterioration in the macro environment and retail sector in the UK. While it is important that we learn from this experience, this should not discourage our team from being bold and diligent in pursuing opportunities to create shareholder value.

"A divestment under the agreed terms is in the best interests of Wesfarmers' shareholders and will support the ongoing reset and repositioning of the Homebase business."

Bunnings UK and Ireland reported a loss before interest and tax of £97m for the half year ending December 31 2017. Pre-tax significant items of £531m were also recorded. With new management in place, Scott added that the operating performance of the business had improved in recent months.

Bunnings Warehouse website

Images: Bunnings

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News: Future Rotherham fracking plans could be taken out of council hands

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Rotherham Council was upset by the way INEOS' oil and gas exploration took the decision out of the hands of its planning authority for a test drilling well but they may not get the chance to determine forthcoming applications if the Government pushes through changes to the way shale exploration plans are dealt with.

The Government said it would consult on whether shale exploration should be treated as permitted development, which enables certain types of work to be carried out without the need to apply for planning permission.

INEOS appealed to the Government's Planning Inspectorate last year for a decision on its proposed test well at Harthill.

Having been given the "hurry-up" by Government, INEOS said that it had encountered "unreasonable delays" in dealing with Rotherham Council on its plans for a drilling rig on Greenbelt land.

A recent planning inquiry heard objections from the Council and from local and national campaign groups whilst INEOS put forward reasons why the plans should be approved.

In Westminster last week a written statement on energy policy was put forward which focused on the planning system and speeding up decisions relating to shale exploration.

In 2015, the Government set out a range of measures to help ensure every planning application or appeal was dealt with as quickly as possible. However, recent decisions on shale exploration planning applications remain "disappointingly slow" against a statutory time frame of 16 weeks where an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required.

For the two INEOS sites in Rotherham - Harthill and Woodsetts, Council planners determined that the proposed projects fall outside the remit of the EIA regulations.

The applications would provide temporary permission for a maximum of five years and the operation would involve various site investigation surveys and site preparation before a period of drilling, coring and testing. A well would be drilled to approximately 2,800 m using a drill rig of maximum 60 m rig height followed by three months of testing.

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The statement set out a range of measures to facilitate timely decisions on shale exploration decisions. To be treated as a material consideration when deciding on plans, it discusses the importance of shale to the UK economy.

For example, the Government said that it would continue to treat appeals against any refusal of planning permission for exploring and developing shale gas, or against any non-determination "as a priority for urgent determination by the Planning Inspectorate, making additional resources available where necessary."

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will also actively consider calling in shale applications particularly where statutory deadlines have been exceeded.

Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said: "Shale gas development is of national importance. The Government expects Mineral Planning Authorities to give great weight to the benefits of mineral extraction, including to the economy. This includes shale gas exploration and extraction.

"Mineral Plans should reflect that minerals resources can only be worked where they are found, and applications must be assessed on a site by site basis and having regard to their context. Plans should not set restrictions or thresholds across their plan area that limit shale development without proper justification.

"We expect Mineral Planning Authorities to recognise the fact that Parliament has set out in statute the relevant definitions of hydrocarbon, natural gas and associated hydraulic fracturing. In addition, these matters are described in Planning Practice Guidance, which Plans must have due regard to. Consistent with this Planning Practice Guidance, policies should avoid undue sterilisation of mineral resources (including shale gas)."

A revised planning practice guidance on shale development is set to be published when the revised National Planning Policy Framework has been launched and a planning brokerage service and £1.6m shale support fund is being launched to support planning authorities.

In addition, an early stage consultation is scheduled for summer 2018 on the principle of whether non-hydraulic fracturing shale exploration development should be treated as permitted development, and in particular on the circumstances in which this might be appropriate. Permitted developments derive from a general planning permission granted not by the local authority but by Parliament.

Consultation would also take place on the criteria required to trigger the inclusion of shale production projects into the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime. Included projects are decided by the Planning Inspectorate, the national government executive agency.

Claire Perry, Energy and Clean Growth Minister, said: "British shale gas has the potential to help lower bills and increase the security of the UK's energy supply while creating high quality jobs in a cutting-edge sector. This package of measures delivers on our manifesto promise to support shale and it will ensure exploration happens in the most environmentally responsible way while making it easier for companies and local communities to work together."

Images: INEOS

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News: Rotherham's new Lumière Gallery lights up High Street

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A new photography and art gallery has opened on Rotherham's historic High Street.

Lumière Gallery houses the work of local photographer and educator Lance Burkitt along with art and design work from both established and up and coming, local based creatives.

Alongside popular local businesses including the Makers Emporium, Miele Deli and Hamby's Antique Shop, people are invited to view, pop in for a coffee, and purchase art to take away with them. Much of the art is limited edition and varies from fine art to creative photography, digital design, illustration and traditional art.

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Lance Burkitt, a former lecturer at Rotherham College, said: "Rotherham has undergone a lot of bad press in recent years. The town centre is only a shadow of its former self. Art can be a real boon during difficult times. Our intention is to give the town a focus, a place for people to come and see the amazing talent and visual creativity of which the town is resplendent.

"I'm a photographer myself and the gallery displays work from local artists as well as my own images.

"I also offer a range of photographic service from photoshoots, family portraits, weddings etc., to slide scanning, printing, framing and photo restoration."

Cllr Denise Lelliott, Cabinet Member for Jobs and the Local Economy at Rotherham Council, added: "I'm delighted to welcome another business to Rotherham's High Street to join the existing community of independent retailers.

"I'd like to wish Lance all the best and hope that local residents take the opportunity to call in and take a look."

Lumière Gallery website

Images: Lumière Gallery

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

News: Sneak peek at Rotherham's newest bar

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Tom Austen, editor of Rothbiz, recently took the opportunity to take a look at the renovation work inside a Grade II listed "hidden gem" of a building in Rotherham town centre that is being brought back to life as a boutique hotel. The fact the bars were open for the first time was purely coincidental.

The George Wright building is an early 19th century former office built in a Tudor Revival style. It is tucked away behind the High Street on The Crofts and was saved from being lost forever by Chris Hamby who has pioneered the heritage-led regeneration project to create a complex of mixed-used retail outlets focusing on listed buildings.

With the initial focus on the restoration of the Three Cranes building and the retail units which are fully let, work is almost complete on the conversion of the George Wright building.

This project is being pioneered by another local businessman who sees the potential of the town and the importance of recognising its heritage - Mark McGrail, who found success with Parkgate-based SME Environmental Services and in 2016 completed the 1915 Bar & Bistro, across the town centre.

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The hotel includes two bars. Proud tradespeople mixed with elected members fresh from signing in a new mayor at a "soft opening" event as the staff continued preparations to fully open later in the Spring. Bar staff were putting the finishing touches to the gin and cocktail menus.

With seven bedrooms, the site also has a function room and a number of weddings are already booked in. A grill restaurant with open kitchen is also planned.

Outside, open terraces can be found at the front and back of the property - the hotel can be reached from the Town Hall side and from an alleyway leading up from the High Street. A botanical type garden adds to the "hidden gem" feeling.

Tom Austen said: "When Chris [Hamby] showed me around the properties three years ago, the Three Cranes and Georgion town house were lovingly restored but the George Wright building was still in a sorry state. The roof had been replaced but inside it still had no floor and most areas were out of bounds.

"To go in last week and see it as it is now was seriously impressive. I can remember the bistro at The Crofts but I mostly remember the buildings as dilapidated eyesores.

"The George Wright Boutique Hotel and Bar is something that Rotherham can be proud of and just shows you what can be done with our heritage assets and don't sell ourselves short."

The building was famously occupied by George Wright & Company in the 1800's who designed and manufactured elaborate stoves and fireplaces. The site also formed lawyer's offices from 1777-1887.

The original stone built two-storey, Grade II listed building was constructed in 1850. It includes a two and three storey annex to the north that had been subjected to fire.

George Wright Boutique Hotel Bar & Restaurant Facebook page

Images: Tom Austen

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News: Heathrow delegation lands in SCR

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A delegation from Heathrow Airport is visiting the Sheffield City Region (SCR) as part of a nationwide tour of potential construction centres to support the airport's expansion.

Rothbiz reported in 2017 that two former colliery sites in Rotherham have made it onto a longlist of 65 "Logistic Hub" locations – off-site centres for construction and manufacturing which will help Heathrow Airport deliver its expansion plan.

Eight sites in the SCR have made the longlist of 65 including 31 East, the remaining land on the reclaimed Dinnington colliery, and the site of the former Maltby Colliery that was mothballed in 2013.

During each visit, the prospective Logistics Hub will have the opportunity to demonstrate the strengths of their proposal. The delegation will visit all longlisted locations in the first half of 2018, assessing their suitability before putting successful bids through to the next round.

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Dan Jarvis, mayor of the Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield Combined Authority, said: "It's great news that we as a city region have more shortlisted sites than any other region in the UK. This is testament to our super-connected location and our excellence in advanced engineering, manufacturing and logistics.

"During these visits, we will be demonstrating all the reasons why we think our sites would be an ideal location for one of Heathrow's Logistics Hubs. Not only do we already have the infrastructure in place, but our city region is home to a skilled workforce with a strong heritage of manufacturing and industry. Key to this is the AMRC training centre, widely regarded as a centre of excellence in producing apprentices ready to enter careers in engineering and manufacturing.

"This is a great opportunity for us as a city region to be part of one the UK's most significant infrastructure projects. We welcome the potential boost in jobs and economic growth that a Logistics Hub could bring and look forward to showcasing our sites to the delegation."

The London airport, the largest in the UK and one of the biggest in the world, received Government support for expansion so that the need for additional capacity in the south-east of England will be met by a new north-west runway at Heathrow.

As part of the expansion, which has an estimated cost of £17.6bn, four logistic hubs will be located across the country as the airport pledges to shake-up the UK construction industry by using expansion to revolutionise the way Britain builds major infrastructure.

Aiming to build as much of the project off-site as possible, the hubs will work by pre-assembling components off-site before transporting them in consolidated loads to Heathrow just as they are needed.

During the visit, the Heathrow delegation will also visit the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing, and meet with representatives from the SCR and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

The SCR submitted bids because we believe we are a site of national logistics and engineering excellence and have the knowledge, infrastructure and quality to deliver.

Site options put forward include locations with rail connectivity to London and other regional logistics hubs, while there are also six world-class universities and research capabilities within a one-hour drive. These include the AMRC, which is the leading engineering research and training facility in the UK.

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Rachel Clark, director of trade and investment at SCR, said: "Working in partnership with the public and private sector, SCR is already achieving transformational change and building a thriving, successful, economy.

"Our vision is focused on rebalancing the North- South divide and spreading the benefit of major UK infrastructure projects to regenerate our region. I know the quality exists here to make a success of significant investments such as this, and am hopeful that we will be selected as one of the final four locations.

"We are looking forward to working closely with Heathrow on this exciting project which could give a massive boost to our local economy on the back of our recent inward investment successes."

SCR website

Images: Hargreaves

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