“GAME-changing” proposals for a cinema on Forge Island — a key part of the £150 million town centre masterplan — have been approved by Rotherham’s planning board.
The eight-screen complex will be joined by a 69-bed hotel and food and drinks outlets on the 2.6-hectare plot flanked by water.
Developers Muse will place these leisure services on a pedestal over a 340-space car park to be operated by Rotherham Council.
And later phases will see 120 apartments built on the Riverside Precinct and former magistrates’ court sites.
Senior development officer Chris Wilkins, in recommending the plans for approval, said: “I have been working here for 30 years and this has been the most exciting project in the town centre.
“We have seen how high streets cannot survive on a retail basis only.
“The evening economy in the town centre is pretty non-existent. It’s not great.
“The development, we are hoping, will revitalise the town centre.”
A new bridge connecting Corporation Street and Forge Island has been modelled on the Bailey Bridge, which helped win the Second World War and was designed by Rotherham engineer Sir Donald Bailey.
The proposals won unanimous support from planning board members, who voted in a virtual meeting.
Cllr John Williams said: “I don’t think it would be over the top to describe this as game-changing for the town centre. It could be the catalyst for the development of the wider town centre.”
Cllr Alan Atkin said it would be a “great boom” for Rotherham cinemagoers to not have to travel to Sheffield any more.
And he welcomed the historical nod of the new bridge, saying: “Bailey House itself may not last much longer and we need something to recognise Don Bailey.”
Cllr Bob Walsh added: “It has many of the things that a modern town centre ought to have and none of the things a town centre ought not to have.”
And Cllr Stuart Sansome added: “It’s a fantastic opportunity. I fully support it.”
Royal Mail was one of two objectors, raising concerns about access to its Main Street site when traffic increases.
But Mr Wilkins said: “We are satisfied that the proposed scheme won’t make it significantly worse than existing operations on site.
“There will be more traffic in the evening and at weekends because of the nature of leisure rather than retail. That’s a time when other offices and businesses aren’t necessarily operating.”
Approved opening hours for the cinema are until 3.30am, which will allow for midnight showings of big new movies.
The building just further up from Wilko on Corporation Street will be demolished to open up views of Rotherham Minster from Forge Island. Wilko will be unaffected.
Mr Wilkins said: “The advantages outweigh the loss of the building. There are significant overall benefits in that respect.
“We are hoping by taking the buildings down from across the road, we will further open up the views of the minster.”
He compared it with the development of Minster Gardens — opened in 2011 — bringing better views from Corporation Street.
A late change to the legal agreement will mean the developers only paying £31,800 towards green town centre improvements, rather than £46,800.
The contribution for sustainable transport measures remained at £60,000.