Thursday, March 3, 2016

News: All eyes on Forge Island as decision due

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A Council decision on the future of Forge Island is set to be made next month - the key regeneration site could be home to a long-awaited new cinema in Rotherham town centre.

Rotherham Council included an option to buy the site for £1.5m when Tesco vacated and moved across town to the site of former council buildings on Drummond Street. The new £40m Tesco Extra store opened at the end of 2014.

Since the retailer's relocation, the Council has been operating a car park on the site, offering free parking designed for shoppers. Arrangements were also being progressed for the strategic acquisition of the vacated site, which could include a purchase and sale to a third party. A Council decision on the site was deferred in December 2015 in order that further investigations and information could be received.

A key decision on the issue has been pencilled in to be made at the Cabinet/Commissioners' Decision Making Meeting on April 11.

In 2012, the Council's cabinet confirmed Forge Island as the preferred site for a town centre cinema and theatre development and developers and operators where sought. Rotherham town centre has been without a cinema for 25 years.

Last year, Rothbiz revealed that discussions were taking place with private sector developer, The Evans Property Group on a potential 200,000 sq ft office development on Forge Island. However, a bid was knocked back for £6m of pubic sector funding via the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership's investment fund for strategic infrastructure investment (SCRIF).

At the same time, a cinema and new interchange scheme proposal was being developed for the bus station site, but again the funding to deliver the scheme could not be sourced.

A masterplan is currently being refreshed setting the strategy for investment in key town centre sites and the Council is set use its financial firepower to invest around £17m in key projects that have been agreed in principle as those that should be supported. These include a cinema, which in turn is expected to attract secondary restaurant, shop and bar developments; and the development of key strategic sites, including Forge Island.

In discussing the draft town centre masterplan at a meeting with councillors, Simeon Leach, regeneration manager at Rotherham Council, indicated that plans for Forge Island include a cinema-led leisure development with the potential for a residential element. Utilising the riverfront location, development is set to improve linkages to rest of the town and the revamped train station, as well as kickstart regeneration on nearby sites at Weirside and Corporation Street.

As the Council sets its corporate plans, budgets and strategies for the year ahead, the authority has placed Rotherham town centre high up on the agenda. It maintains that: "As a matter of civic pride, the Council will want to arrest any further decline in the town centre, consolidate the retail core and add in other uses, including promoting a cinema or near cinema site and a wider range of restaurants, eating places and night life. The Council will need to compete with other out of town entertainment sites and have an agreed offer of "free parking.""

The Council acknowledges that a cinema "would bring a sea change to how the town centre is viewed" but a new cinema operator is likely to ask for a payment known as a reverse premium as an inducement to anchor any development and make it a financial success.

Consultants at Jacobs also identified in a 2013 study that around £6m would need to be spent to deal with flooding and ground issues on the site, which was previously the Rotherham Forge & Rolling Mills.

Images: Jacobs

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