ROTHERHAM’S £2 billion Renaissance could be hit hard by swingeing cuts in public spending, a new council report warned this week.
Development official John Smales spelled out how the coalition Government’s tightening of the purse strings could damage the long-term overhaul of the town centre.
In a report to councillors headed Regeneration in Times of Austerity, he said that some key projects such as revamping Rotherham Central station, building new civic offices and putting up new council houses would be completed.
But he admitted that others—including overhauling High Street, revamping the site of the former All Saints’ Building and transforming riverside and town gateway sites—would be held back or seriously affected by the unsettled financial climate.
The site of the former All Saints’ Building will still be turned into a park—likely to be known as All Saints’ Park—but on a smaller scale than originally planned.
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Council bosses had hoped to spend up to £3 million on transforming the currently boarded up site for public use, but has now agreed on a scheme costing closer to £300,000 after funding was slashed.
Paul Woodcock, the council’s director of planning and regeneration, confirmed that some major schemes, including the new community stadium, were still going ahead with help from council funding.
He said that town the centre would remain a priority and insisted that things were not grinding to a halt, adding: “I can’t say everything in the garden is rosy but it’s a mixed bag and there are lots of positive developments.”
However, Mr Smales’ report, which will be formally presented to councillors on Wednesday, presents a grim picture of the prospects of future national funding.
It comes just weeks after the Government announced that it was scrapping Yorkshire Forward by 2012 and forming Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) instead
Mr Smales said that the axing of the agency, along with the scrapping of the area’s Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder, had created “the most profound uncertainty” over the future.
He added: “Over 50 per cent of Yorkshire Forward’s funding has been cut, leaving scope to honour existing contractual commitments but leaving no funds for new starts.
“The decision by Yorkshire Forward to cut Enablement funding together with the ending of HMR Pathfinder Enablement funding will result in a 65 per cent to 70 per cent shortfall in funding for staff salaries within the development team, leading to an unavoidable and significant review of staff engaged with the delivery of projects.
“The council has submitted a bid of about £50 million for funding from the Housing and Communities Agency.
“Whilst it is highly unlikely that this would be successful in entirety, neither is it known whether any funding will be forthcoming at all.
“The October spending review of central government does not present an optimistic prospect.
“Similarly, the distribution of funding via the LEPs does not present a generous picture as significantly less funds are available for distribution than previously.
“The removal of grants intended as ‘kick-start’ funding to attract private sector and inward investment will have a negative impact, particularly as developers are having extreme difficulty in accessing bank lending.”
Despite the grim tone of parts of the report, Mr Smales insisted that there were some grounds for optimism, adding: “Recent successes suggest that the private sector has an appetite for investment which could be stimulated by a relaxation in the banks lending finance.”
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