Grant bid could help Rotherham Council tackle challenges of declining town centre

Work has started to change the face of Rotherham town centre as the council grapples with the impact of a national trend of shoppers leaving the high street, with a growth of homes and office space in the area now likely.

Friday, 29th March 2019, 7:34 am
Updated Wednesday, 10th April 2019, 4:53 pm

Rotherham Council has applied for funding from the Government’s Future High Streets Fund, which is designed to help local authorities implement changes to keep town centres vibrant as fewer people want to shop there, but it will be some time before that cash becomes available – if the bid is successful.

The next stage would involve the council drawing up a full business case, which would then need Whitehall approval before any cash was released, meaning it would be more than a year before any practical progress could be made.

In the meantime, council officials are working on other plans, with practical examples including planning applications to use ground floor accommodation at Kepple Wharf, which has proved to be unwanted for retail use, as housing and to convert some first floor space at the old town hall into offices.

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But officers are wary of allowing too much conversion of retail space to other uses, for fear of leaving the remaining shops isolated and under increased trading pressure as a result.

Latest council statistics show the amount of retail floorspace in the town centre has gone down, but the town has been attracting more visitors over recent months – a figure which until recently had been in decline.

Council officer Paul Woodcock told members: “The anticipation is that demand for space and retail will continue to be challenging.”

One of the problems the council faces is that it does not own most of the town centre buildings, so cannot force landlords to take action, though staff do work with them to try to improve the situation.

“The team are in contact with landlords, we have been talking about the vacant Primark unit and how that is looking like an eyesore.

“Can it be made to look better than the chipboard on there? The onus is on private landlords to do that,” he said.