Driving ambition at revved up Rotherham
Rotherham is having its best period for 15 years thanks to a string of big projects - including the arrival of supercar manufacturer McLaren.
Despite challenges, the borough’s “pragmatic and positive” approach is paying off, according to council leader Chris Read.
The Advanced Manufacturing Park was booming even before McLaren’s under-construction chassis factory generated stellar interest.
Waverley, the housing site next door, has plans for hundreds more homes and a £50m town centre, while 2,500 new houses could be built at Bassingthorpe Farm to the north west.
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In the town centre, University Centre Rotherham is under construction, a new bus station starts early next year and Coun Read is “quietly confident” in the £150m ‘Forge Island’ redevelopment scheme after receiving “two or three” expressions of interest from developers.
Meanwhile, Speciality Steels, which employs 850 in the borough, is thriving under new ownership following a £100m takeover in May. Liberty House has hired 300, is investing £20m and re-starting mothballed equipment.
And, following the child sexual exploitation scandal, it is hoped all powers will be returned next year.
Coun Read said: “I think we are in the most exciting position Rotherham has been in for 15 years. I think it reflects well on our ambition. Rotherham is changing for the better and we have big opportunities for growth.
“The council is moving forward from well established difficulties and there are a number of quite large scale economic and housing developments coming together.
“At the same time you have government cuts, which is unbelievably difficult.”
In the decade to 2020, Rotherham will have suffered cuts worth £200m, Coun Read states.
The borough has also suffered challenges from growing retail competition at Meadowhall, losing its preferred HS2 station site and missing out on millions from devolution.
But Coun Read, who took over in 2015, refuses to hold grudges.
He added: “You’ve got to keep bouncing back. We didn’t do well on HS2, while people say ‘Sheffield will get the benefit of devolution’. But they will if we aren’t there.
“It’s important not to get caught up in things that don’t work out in your favour because you might not be ready for the next thing that comes along.
“I think Rotherham has had a bad run where cynics came to the fore.
“Now, those who really want it to be better are breaking through. Major changes will be visible in the next two years.”
CITY LIVING IN THE TOWN CENTRE
Forge Island could establish city living in Rotherham town centre.
The £150m plan for bars, restaurants, apartments and a cinema down by the river is being pitched to developers after the authority gained control of key sites.
Leader Chris Read said: “That moved us into a different environment.”