Wednesday, March 15, 2017

News: Housing could replace Rotherham Court buildings

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Rotherham Council is continuing proceedings to acquire the former Law Court buildings for £1, with Commissioner Kenny handing down a verdict on the latest move to regenerate the town centre.

Home of the Magistrates' Court, County Court and Family Court, the building was vacated in September 2016 and the Council has been trying to acquire the site to support the potential redevelopment of the key Forge Island site.

An earlier request that the property be transferred back to Council ownership was denied but Government agencies notified the Council in February that it had reconsidered the position and that it would be willing to transfer the ownership of the building to the Council, at a £1 consideration, so long as the transfer completes by the March 31 2017.

The decision to acquire the site from Her Majesty's Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) was approved by Commissioner Kenny this week.

Rotherham Council's Cabinet Member for Jobs and the Local Economy Cllr Denise Lelliott said the opportunity to purchase the site was "too good an opportunity to miss" given the current plans to develop the adjacent Forge Island.

She said: "Once we knew the courts were closing, we actively pursued the acquisition and engineered a fantastic price to add this site to our priority to develop this part of town. The purchase will significantly aid our plans and bring added benefits to the town centre masterplan. The site could play a number of different roles through redevelopment and has the potential to accommodate several alternative, complementary activities."

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Opened in 1994, the building was initially transferred from the Council to the HMCTS in 2001 when the service was newly-formed. Located by the canal and Police Station on Main Street, it provided 62,785 sq ft of floorspace over four floors but was dubbed "poor quality" and work was transferred to Sheffield.

The agreement follows the recent purchase of Forge Island from Tesco. Detailed development proposals for the island are currently being prepared alongside the town centre masterplan. An initial draft of the plan is expected in April. Bosses hope that work on a new £43m leisure hub, anchored by a new seven screen cinema and 80 bed hotel, will begin next year.

The report to councillors and commissioners points to the court buildings being demolished and the 1.34 acres (0.54 hectares) site used for "several alternative, complementary activities" to the Forge Island redevelopment. A cleared site could be worth an estimated £500,000.

Damien Wilson, Strategic Director of Regeneration and Environment at Rotherham Council, said: "This is further great news for Rotherham, particularly given the Council's recent purchase of Forge Island, which forms a vital part in the town centre masterplan. This acquisition will allow us to expand our plans, creating new jobs, businesses and housing for the borough."

Paul Woodcock, assistant director of Regeneration and Environment, added: "The sites are being looked at together by the masterplan consultants alongside the site at the other side of the river - Riverside Precinct - where a decision was made for the Council to acquire the remaining freeholds. Collectively that will give a larger site, surrounded by water, to then take forward in terms of regeneration potential."

Through the One Public Estate strategy for the Sheffield city region, The Rotherham courts site has been highlighted for potential residential development as it could provide 120 units, including 60 starter homes.

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In approving the recommendations to go ahead with the deal, Commissioner Kenny said: "I think it is important to say that this was a piece of land that was originally owned by the Council, and the Council did financially contribute to the construction of the Magistrates' Court some many years ago. So I think that the Council needs to be commended for putting an application through to the MOJ [Ministry of Justice] and persuading them to allow us to take this property back.

"It is a strategic site, next to Forge Island, and directly runs into the railway station so I think it would be an excellent acquisition.

"Because of the pace that we are going, there are some issues raised but those matters are being dealt with on a daily basis as we progress, and I'm sure that those matters can be resolved."

One issue is that, due to the tight timescales, the Council will be unable to carry out the usual level of due diligence over legal issues and covenants before the deal is concluded.

Images: Google Maps


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