Wednesday, April 5, 2017

News: New masterplan comes at a "crucial and exciting" time for Rotherham

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A draft of the new Rotherham town centre masterplan is garnering interest from developers, institutional investors and a leading hotel group, all keen to find out the opportunities available.

The urban designer bringing together the new town centre masterplan gave an exclusive first look at the latest drafts at the first meeting of the Rotherham Pioneers and explained that the focus is on implementation and being ambitious but realistic.

Project director Andrew Clarke, who originates from Rotherham, is a director of Urban Design at consultants WYG. He told the attendees: "This is a crucial and exciting time for Rotherham and its town centre and we are at a key point with the draft proposals."

The plan is due to be made public in May so it is still work in progress, but the idea is for it, and the town, to be commercially focused and pragmatic, but bold at the same time, with the delivery of exceptional projects.

The plan will look to use the town's assets as key positive features - the river, heritage, the market. Key projects include a proposed £43m leisure hub on Forge Island and a number of high quality schemes to boost the number of houses.

Clarke, who obviously knows the mindset of many Rotherham residents, added: "I'd like people who look at the masterplan to say: "you've no chance" because in three years time they'll be saying "I never thought they'd do that."

Previous plans, such as Rotherham Renaissance were hit by the global economic downturn and the withdrawal of Government funding. Completed projects include the redeveloped train station, New York Stadium and the heritage-led regeneration on the High Street. Future projects include the HE campus and revamp of the bus station.

Clarke added: "One thing that makes a difference and will make it happen is the local authority-owned land. We have a Council who is being pro-active and offering developers control.

"There'll be different delivery options as the Council seeks partners but we have got to get quality. We have to set new standards."

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The plan will place a lot of onus on Forge Island being a catalyst project. The Council recently concluded a deal to acquire the key regeneration site from Tesco. With the law courts and Riverside Preceint also being acquired, the wider development incorporating Forge Island and adjacent sites could deliver a 25,000 sq ft cinema, 20,000 sq ft hotel and 6,000 sq ft of restaurants and bars.

Government cash has also bee secured for £30m of housing development on Council-owned sites.

Damien Wilson, strategic director of regeneration and environment at Rotherham Council, was also at the Rotherham Pioneers event. He said: "The masterplan is about deliverability and we are taking these projects to the market. We took a brief to MIPIM, the global property event, and we've met with institutional investors who have targeted Rotherham. It could be for individual projects, it could be for the whole thing."

Wilson also revealed that talks have been held with cinema operators and the Hilton Hotels group.

Attendees were shown computer generated images of how the high quality development projects could look - hotels and leisure on Forge Island responding to the Minster and new riverside housing.
One thing that Clarke admitted was that "retail is not the answer" as the focus shifts to other town centre uses such as leisure and housing. "Like the rest of the UK, we are challenged. We cannot compete with Meadowhall and Parkgate Shopping," he said. "I think the town's retail offer will need to be consolidated, it is quite spread out."

One retail asset set to remain is the town's market, where a revamp to take advantage of the £40m Tesco Extra store has been mooted for years.

The plan is set to become an important tool in marketing the wider town centre to potential investors and encouraging further regeneration and improvement. It is also set to cover transport issues in more detail, including the preparation of a car parking strategy for the town.

Clarke concluded: "The town centre is a little jewel. It just needs moving in the right direction."

WYG website
Rotherham Pioneers website

Images: Rotherham Pioneers


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