Wednesday, November 9, 2016

News: Developer interest returns in Rotherham town centre

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Developers are showing an interest in the opportunities for commercial projects in Rotherham town centre.

Rotherham Council and the Rotherham Together Partnership, which brings together representatives from key local agencies, have both highlighted town centres as one of the top priorities for the borough.

The last few months have seen the Council take the lead on a development projects within the town centre - notably with its proposed acquisition of Forge Island. With £17m set aside from its Capital Strategy, work is underway to prioritise projects and outline business cases for a number of projects including a cinema / leisure scheme on Forge Island.

Commissioner Julie Kenny discussed the progress in town centre redevelopment at a recent Rotherham Together Partnership engagement event, highlighting the potential of Forge Island, the Riverside Precint, the Interchange, Westgate Chambers and other sites for housing.

Kenny said: "For the first time in a while we have developers coming to us to see what opportunities and land is available in Rotherham town centre." She also discussed the planned Higher Education campus on Doncaster Gate in terms of regenerating the town and the importance of young people staying in Rotherham to train in the skills needed by Rotherham businesses.

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The authority is also hoping to acquire Riverside Precinct to support its regeneration ambitions for Forge Island. It owns the freeholds but not the leaseholds of the property on Corporation Street.

Damien Wilson, Strategic Director of Regeneration & Environment at Rotherham Council, recently told councillors: "There's two key aspects to any comprehensive regeneration scheme - one is planning certainty and the other one is land or building control, the ownership. Any developer that wants to consider investment in the town will want those kind of guarantees. They don't want to take risk, they want to "de-risk" as much as possible.

"The acquisition of Forge Island is a key part, and that's a key commitment the Council has already made. Separate to that we are exploring the courts building at the other side of the canal, which, whilst we don't own, we are in negotiations with government agencies with the hope that that asset can be transferred.

"Linking to the Precinct, what you'll then have is three sites that are linked physically and in development terms has an "added marriage value." In isolation each site has a value but when you lump the three together there's a collective value that can be achieved. It would increase the amount of land available and the increase the development potential.

"It is fundamental that you have that link through the precinct - the gateway between the town centre and Forge Island. Without prejudging, it may be that those units have a future within the masterplan or it maybe that it might be desirable for the community and for the masterplan to come forward with a scheme that says remove it and increase the vista between the town centre and the Minster, and Forge Island."
Aggregate footfall in the town centre continues to decline and a contract to provide a town centre masterplan has recently been awarded. The work, which is set to be completed in Spring 2017, will build on the previous Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) for the town centre.

The Council has also said that five of its economic development projects, plus one housing bid, have recently been submitted to the Sheffield City Region for funding, utilising an underspend from currently approved projects under the Sheffield City Region Investment Fund (SCRIF) programme. The results of the bids should be known soon and a further full bidding round is due early in 2017, using the funds available to the City Region through the devolution deal.

A bid from the Council has also been submitted to the Government to secure funding from the Starter Homes fund to kickstart housing development on three sites in the town centre.

Images: ARUP


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