Friday, June 23, 2017

News: "Ambitious but deliverable" masterplan for Rotherham Town Centre

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Developers and investors are lining up to get involved in the multimillion opportunities in the new Rotherham town centre masterplan where the focus is on implementation and being ambitious but realistic.

Launched this week, the masterplan has been developed by consultants at WYG working with the local Council and stakeholders. Rothbiz reported in April on how the idea is for it, and the town, to be commercially focused and pragmatic, but bold at the same time.

Catalyst projects include the proposed £43m leisure hub on Forge Island and further residential developments to boost the vitality of the town. The plans also show the potential for a new theatre and arts centre (cgi below) on the former Law Courts site nearby and feasibility studies will be carried out on the prospects. There is also the potential long term acquisition of the adjacent Police Station.

Unlike the 25 year vision of previous plans under the Rotherham Renaissance banner, the new plans are aimed at giving the town an immediate boost.

WYG's project director Andrew Clarke, who originates from Rotherham, said: "The plan is about picking up the momentum. Rotherham needs this plan and the projects now, not in five or ten years time. The town needs a big project to transform people's perceptions.

"With a focus on deliverability, the difference here is that we have got a Council being pro-active and acquiring key sites as the plan is finalised. In some cases the answers are already there. We have a number of high profile regeneration projects like the higher education campus and redevelopment of the Interchange where the money is already in place and work is due to start in the Summer."

From now until 2020, it is envisaged that anything between £130m and 160m will be invested in the town.

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The masterplan is set to be an important tool in marketing the wider town centre to potential investors and encouraging further regeneration and improvements. Those behind the plan admitted that they had been surprised by the level of investor appetite, even before its publication, and expect it to create "the right time" for projects like the redevelopment of the Guest & Chrimes site by the football club to be rekindled.

It is hoped that a "new and exciting" destination leisure offering could be created on the foundry site, with potential for very significant numbers of visitors each year.

Damien Wilson, strategic director of regeneration and environment at Rotherham Council, said: "We have had at least 12 investors and developers knocking on our door, wanting to see the plans and the briefs. Local and national developers and institutional investors."

Soft-market testing has been underway alongside property firm, LSH and a brief was taken to MIPIM, the global property event. With Forge Island, which is set to remain as a car park whilst plans are finalised, a more detailed brief is set to go out in September.

The masterplan follows a recent report by industry analysts at Bilfinger GVA that concluded that comparison goods retailer demand for the town centre is likely to be subdued and advised the Council to focus on trying to maintain the current comparison goods role of the town centre in the face of sustained competition and look at other sectors to add vibrancy and vitality.

Sectors such as the under-represented leisure, food and drink sector, and creating more housing are given prominence in the plans which adds that "everyday retailing will continue in Rotherham, but it will not lead to Rotherham's resurgence." Instead the focus will be on diversifying and creating a high quality offer that is different to Parkgate and Meadowhall with independent and unqiue retailers.

Cllr. Denise Lelliott, cabinet member for jobs and the local economy at Rotherham Council, said: "It is hard not to get carried away a little bit because there are so many projects, with some happening right now. It is an exciting time for the town centre which we know is important to people.

"We want a family friendly offer, attracting people into to town who can then stay for longer. I like the idea for the Markets Complex - opening the side facing Drummond Street and Tesco. The markets kept Rotherham alive over the past few years so we are keen to support existing traders and businesses, here and across town."

Details and further images on some of the projects can be seen here.

People can also view the plans and speak to consultants at the Masterplan exhibition which will take place in All Saints' Square (in the old Thornton's unit) on Wednesday June 28 from 11am until 7pm. There will also be a display of the concept drawings for people to view in the Riverside library gallery in the town centre up to the 6th July.

Images: RMBC / WYG


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