Tuesday, August 4, 2015

News: Campus plan for Doncaster Gate

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A £12m university campus could be built on Doncaster Gate in Rotherham town centre, on the site where the former Victorian hospital was controversially demolished by Rotherham Council.

A higher education campus for Rotherham was given priority in the borough's Growth Plan and partners at the council and Rotherham College have been working on finding a suitable site in order to submit a bid for funding from the Sheffield city region skills capital fund - a £13m pot for training space, workshop or launch pad facilities.

Rotherham College has ambitious plans to double the size of the HE population in three years and a new campus is needed to facilitate this. Rated "Good" by OFSTED in 2013, the college has been investing in facilities at both its town centre and Dinnington campuses as part of an £18m, four-year programme. It aims to build on this and extend its range of qualifications from level 4 through to level 6 (degree level).

RCAT is bidding for £4m from the fund for the £12m project and a bid needs to be submitted within two months.

Simeon Leach, economic development manager at Rotherham Council said in a report: "Rotherham is the only town, of significant size, within the Sheffield City Region without a Higher Education Centre, which partially contributes to level 4 and above attainment in Rotherham being 12.7 percentage points below the national average and 4.8 percentage points below the regional average. This level of underachievement needs to be addressed to provide the skilled workforce necessary to attract inward investors and grow existing businesses.

"Local businesses will be at the heart of the campus, with provision being industry led rather than academic. They will be involved in establishing, informing and delivering the project for Rotherham."

Three council-owned sites in the town centre were identified that could accommodate a 44,000 sq ft campus - enough space to eventually house 1,000 students. They were the current markets complex, Drummond Street car park and the Doncaster Gate site.

As the aim is to be open for the 2017/18 academic year, it was not deemed feasible for the campus to be delivered on the markets site due to the need for major physical and engineering works. Development on Drummond Street was discounted as it could cause concerns from local businesses if car parking is lost.

In 2013, Rotherham Council's cabinet approved plans to demolish Rotherham's first purpose-built hospital in a bid to save costs and attract a greater interest in the opportunities for development of the site. The historic buildings were first put up for sale by Rotherham Council as a development site in March 2012 after serving as council offices for the previous three years alongside the adjacent health village and GP surgery.

The now cleared site was earmarked for a mix of uses including office use, housing and residential and nonresidential institutions. It was earmarked to be sold off in the 2015/16 financial year.

The new campus may not need all of the site which allows the Council to retain it for future development or for the College to purchase the additional land for future expansion. Interest in using the site, where any development will not affect the adjacent medical facilities, has come from providers of specialist housing provision.

Commissioner Julie Kenny made the "minded to" decision this week for the in principle disposal of the Doncaster Gate site, or part of, to Rotherham College be approved on terms to be agreed.

Rotherham College website

Images: Doncaster Gate Heritage project

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