Friday, March 3, 2017

News: Major projects key to regeneration of Rotherham town centre

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The regeneration of Rotherham town centre must be driven by large scale developments and major changes like the proposed £43m leisure hub on Forge Island, according to a council investment boss.

A recent update of the borough's growth plan highlighted that the economy was moving in the right direction with 2,000 more Rotherham-based job and 420 new businesses recorded since 2014. However, in the town centre, where a number of smaller scale regeneration projects have taken place, the number of vacant units has increased and footfall has gone down.

WYG Group was selected at the end of 2016 to work with Rotherham Council to develop a masterplan for Rotherham town centre. The follow-up piece of work will build on the work of consultants, Arup, and become an important tool in marketing the wider town centre to potential investors and encouraging further regeneration and improvement. It is set to provide "bold and deliverable solutions for leisure, retail, recreation and town centre living."

Projects are already moving forward, including the £43m leisure hub for Forge Island, the £12m Higher Education Campus and a £12m refurbishment scheme at Rotherham Interchange.

Tim O'Connell, business investment manager at RiDO, the regeneration arm of Rotherham Council, said: "The main piece of work is the town centre masterplan. My view would be that there needs to be some major changes. We have done a number of things, and we've done some really good things in the past in terms of the smaller scale initiatives around High Street and independent retail, but there needs to be some major change.

"If we are just trying to prop up the town centre as it is, then we are on a sticky wicket. There's a lot of work to try and support the town centre, and keep the town centre in a state that is still alive and breathing while the larger scale changes come on, but the focus has to be about delivering large scale changes."

The Council recently concluded a deal to acquire Forge Island from Tesco. Bosses hope that redevelopment could begin next year on a scheme anchored by a new seven screen cinema and 80 bed hotel.

O'Connell said: "We really need to deliver on things like Forge Island - get it redeveloped and create a heart to the town centre and a reason for people to come in there. Until we get some of those bigger changes, the smaller changes that, although we've done well, have only been arresting what would have been a bigger decline rather than turning it around.

"Delivering something on Forge Island with a cinema and hotel, and some appropriate, family-friendly food and beverage and leisure offer, will make a big difference in creating the right environment for people to live and for people to come in to town."

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The Council has also secured funding from the Government's Starter Homes Programme to develop starter homes in the town centre - a £32m series of schemes that could result in hundreds of new homes.

O'Connell believes that housing is also key to the regeneration of the town centre. He added: "My view is that increasing the number of people living in the town centre can make a huge difference. The overall aim is to deliver 2,000 homes. If you were to do that you would have a completely different environment to the environment you've got now. You would have people that would be customers for the shops, cafes and bars and there would be people around, it would be busy.

"Following on from the Council's sites, we are in discussions with the private sector about delivering more houses in the town centre. It is about getting the economic dynamics to work. At the moment values are quite low in Rotherham so people need some sort of cushion or support to make the development happen. That's a challenge as there is not much money around but it's using things like the Sheffield City Region and Government funding streams to be able to create that market and move forward."The investment boss also gave an honest assessment that the environment in the town centre needs to be better. "Unfortunately there's not one quick fix to make that happen," added O'Connell who also believes there's an opportunity to link to the emerging Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District and to create the right environment for people to live in the town centre and work in a well-paid, high-skilled innovative job ten minutes away.

On the issue of safety in Rotherham town centre, the recent results from the lifestyle survey carried out in schools showed that 24.6% of pupils said they always feel safe in the town centre, 45.4% said they sometimes feel safe and 19.3% said they never feel safe.

O'Connell said: "There's lots of activity about trying to make it a safer place, trying to keep it clean, trying to make sure it is seen as being safe. Actually, all the evidence and crime statistics seem to suggest that it is quite a safe place, but clearly if people don't feel that it is, then it isn't. That is the challenge. You can have whatever stats you like but if people don't feel safe, they don't feel safe, so that's a problem for you to address."

RiDO website

Images: ARUP / RMBC


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