Friday, March 16, 2018

News: Council confident on town centre cinema vision

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35 development packs have been sent out to interested parties who are looking at the potential of the key regeneration project in Rotherham town centre - Forge Island.

Demolition work, site preparation and further flood alleviation work is also taking place as the £43m project has a tight timescale.

Rotherham Council is currently searching for a development partner for the major piece of the new town centre masterplan. Having secured the land from Tesco, and surrounding land such as the law courts, the authority is anticipating that the site "could accommodate a cinema, hotel, restaurants and bars, town centre parking, as well as high quality business space and modern residential opportunities."

In an update to councillors this week, Dan Watson, investment & economic initiatives manager at Rotherham Council, said: "There are a few things envisaged for the site and it is hoped that it will act as the catalyst for other town centre improvements. It will also hopefully set the scene, set the tone, for the quality of improvements and interventions that we want to undertake in the town centre.

"It is very much a leisure-led development and there's a strong focus on the cinema for the site and for the town."

Potential development partners are assessing the development opportunity around three plots which make up the 2.73ha site that sits between the railway station, Interchange, council offices, football stadium and Minster.

The draft timetable for Forge Island has work starting on site in May 2019. In the interim, the site of the former Tesco store will be used as a temporary bus station whilst work takes place to upgrade the current interchange. The existing car park on Forge Island will remain open.

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Watson continued: "A development brief and development pack have been prepared and they went out to the market at the end of January.

"We are committed to progressing with these projects. It is a very tight timetable. We are looking to around July / August time for the next stage [evaluating detailed submissions]. That does sound a long time but it really isn't. We are going at it at quite a pace to get things sorted."

He added that so far 35 developers, companies and interested parties had requested the development pack and also described how further work on flood defences in the area were being progressed to help "de-risk" the project for a developer.

Recognising that retail is not the answer to rejuvenate the town centre, the masterplan instead focuses on new leisure and residential schemes.

Simeon Leach, economic strategy & partnerships manager, explains: "If we want to get a destination in town, and the leisure - hotel and cinema, equally well to help, it is vital that we need to get more people living in the town centre.

"We have had quite a few newer places around Westgate and Minster Gardens and now the Council are looking to use three of its own sites to become a "market-creator."

"We'll get the old Sheffield Road baths, Millfold House and the Henley's garage site on Wellgate and bring those forward. They are out to the market at the minute to get someone to design and build them for us. It's going to be about 180 units - a variety of units - and we hope to deliver them and show that there is a market for them.

"Some will be private rented, some will be sold, some will be social housing. Once we can get them up and done, other sites will follow we hope."

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Cllr. Denise Lelliott, Cabinet Member for Jobs and the Local Economy at Rotherham Council, was keen to emphasise the progress made since the masterplan was adopted in September. One major scheme is the new £12m University Centre Rotherham that is taking shape on Doncaster Gate.

Cllr Lelliott said: "If people are saying: "nowt's happening in Rotherham" then where have they been in the last twelve months? Because we've acquired Tescos and demolished it, we've acquired the law courts and demolished it, we've made the bridge look a lot more pleasing on the eye, we've taken cabinet papers through to secure properties within Riverside Precinct.

"Everybody is excited about having a cinema. In terms of developers, we've had so much interest right from the get go for this and because we don't have to go through the OJEU process it makes it a lot better and easier for developers to come forward and to work on it.

Damien [Wilson, Strategic Director for Regeneration and Environment] and Paul [Woodcock, Assistant Director for Planning, Regeneration and Transportation] are at MIPIM and are talking to developers about what the interest is, and we have had a lot of interest and people who have genuinely wanted to do it beforehand."

The cllr. concluded: "Yes it is going to happen. There is a political will but there is also a will of the developers. And it is already happening."

Images: WYG / RMBC

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