Wednesday, December 20, 2017

News: Council considering free Wi-Fi plan for Rotherham town centre

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Shoppers and visitors could soon be offered a free Wi-Fi service in Rotherham town centre as the local council considers ways to stimulate footfall.

Rothbiz reported in September on how the local authority planned to support existing businesses as they wait for the catalyst projects in the new masterplan to revive the town centre.

These include parking incentives, the introduction of a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), marketing and promotion and opportunities for "meanwhile uses" and window/frontage treatments.

Now Rotherham Council is looking to get up to speed and offer free Wi-Fi in the town centre.

Having been asked by Liberal Democrat Cllr. Adam Carter about support for the digital economy in Rotherham at a recent full council meeting, Cllr. Denise Lelliott, Cabinet Member for Jobs and the Local Economy at Rotherham Council, said: "There are a number of measures for the digital economy in Rotherham. We are dealing with programmes and workshops for new start ups and growing businesses. You might have seen the Google Bus out and about as we have been teaming up with partners in Sheffield, and obviously Google, and taking it to where businesses are.

"We have been working with the Sheffield city region on implementing an action digital plan, and that is being drafted at the minute. We have also been working with Superfast Broadband which is across the four local authorities.

"Then we are planning to roll out free Wi-Fi in the town centre as part of our strategy for 2018, but that will be the back end of 2018.

"Via our RiDO team and other council initiatives, we are doing a lot to promote the digital economy in Rotherham."

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Currently free Wi-Fi in the town centre is only available in specific buildings or retail / leisure outlets. For example, at Rotherham Council's Riverside House and the library, Tesco, McDonald's and Wetherspoons.

Sheffield Council recently confirmed the implementation of free, public-access Wi-Fi as part of the Business Improvement District (BID) plans for encouraging visitors, residents and employees to spend more time in the city.

Selecting Idaq Networks, Sheffield Council designed the scheme to include no upfront or ongoing investment by the authority. A concession contract sees the private company install superfast and ultrafast broadband equipment to council-owned street lights and street furniture.

Similar schemes have been progressed in Doncaster and Barnsley town centres.
Rotherham Council's Corporate Plan sets out the priorities for serving local residents and communities. It includes a target based on the aggregate pedestrian footfall in the town centre over the course of the year.

For the quarter between July and September 2017 the footfall was recorded by the Council as 4,820,432. This is slightly down on the April and June 2017 quarter when the footfall figure was 4,875,248 but it is a 15.07% decrease on the summer months of July and September 2016 which peaked at 5,898,148.

The percentage of vacant floor space in the town centre area reduced from 19.3% in the quarter April - June 2017, to 18.4% in the quarter July - September 2017. The demolition of the empty Tesco store on Forge Island accounts for a major part of the decrease but with the 33,100 sq ft Primark unit becoming empty during November, the percentage for the next quarter looks set to increase.

The percentage of total vacant units in the town centre has increased. Going from 25.9% in Q1 (April - June) to 27.2% in Q2 (July - September). The Local Data Company (LDC) calculated that the average vacancy rate in the UK at the end of Q2 rose to 12.2%.

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On declining footfall, Cllr. Lelliott, said: "We acknowledge the fact that footfall is down and we've got problems with empty units. We are doing a lot of work around the town centre to increase footfall and we have set up an officer task group.

"In addition to that, obviously there's our masterplan development and Forge Island, and we have applied to the Sheffield city region with some funding bids to help enable developments to happen.

"We are working with town centre businesses to have a look at what we can do to address empty units, dress them and make them look more attractive to people who are coming in."

Images: RMBC / WYG

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