Change is on the way for Doncaster
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 November 2013
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Change is on the way for a South Yorkshire town that's had more than its fair share of setbacks, reports David Marsh
There is no denying the last few years have been tough for many towns and cities across the country. But with the UK economy showing encouraging signs of growth, many areas have begun the fight back in the battle to create jobs and attract new investment; none more so than Doncaster. The South Yorkshire town, which suffered its fair share of woes during the decline of the region’s once mighty coal industry, is looking to the future with a growing sense of optimism and confidence.
A clear symbol of that confidence is the newly-opened Cast, an eye-catching £22 million new theatre and entertainment venue in the heart of the town. Funded by £20 million from Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council and a £2 million contribution from Arts Council England, Cast is the flagship project of the town’s civic and cultural quarter. The theatre has a 620-seat main auditorium, a performance space for up to 400 spectators, dance studio, drama studio, rehearsal, workshop and teaching spaces and a cafe-bar.
As well as raising the curtain on a brighter cultural future for the town, council bosses are confident Cast and the wider civic and cultural quarter will help set the stage for a period of economic growth.
Leeds, Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester are among a host of towns and cities that have looked to the arts to boost regeneration projects and Ros Jones, Doncaster’s directly-elected mayor, has no doubts about the role Cast can play in the town’s future. She said: ‘It is a superb venue. Over the first weekend of its opening it attracted 6,000 visitors, which is wonderful.
‘It is a key element of the regeneration of that part of the town centre and we hope it will bring more visitors to the borough and help send out the message that Doncaster is an attractive place to live and in which to invest.’
The council and its partners recently announced ambitious plans to create thousands of jobs over the next five years. Job Seekers Allowance claimants in Doncaster are currently at their lowest level in over two years and a new economic growth plan drawn up by Doncaster Council sets out a range of planned developments that could help many more people back into work.
Doncaster has a proud railway heritage. In the 19th century the Great Northern Railway established the Doncaster Locomotive and Carriage Building Works, where the famous Flying Scotsman and Mallard were built, and rail promises to play an important part in the town’s future. Plans unveiled include the development of the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange, known as the Inland Port, at Rossington, expected to create almost 6,000 new jobs, while an additional 8,000 jobs could come from further development of Doncaster Robin Hood Airport.
The DN7 Initiative – a major regeneration scheme with proposals for a carbon capture power facility, potential low carbon business parks and improved transport links to open up new housing and employment land – has the potential to create almost 6,500 new jobs.
Meanwhile work is due to start on a new key link road, the £56 million Finningley and Rossington Regeneration Route Scheme, a government-backed project that will regenerate the village of Rossington, help grow Doncaster’s international airport and encourage investment including the redevelopment of the former colliery site at Rossington.
While planning for the future, Doncaster is also conscious of the need to make the most of its existing assets and attractions. Home to the famous St Leger – the world’s oldest classic horse race first run in 1776 – the sport of kings plays an important role in the town’s sporting and economic life. This year businesses received an estimated £15m boost thanks to a record St Leger Festival Week, a celebration of racing, music, fine food, arts and culture organised by Doncaster Council.
‘Very full of great inns’ was Daniel Defoe’s description of 18th century Doncaster and today it still boasts a wide variety of pubs, bars and restaurants which, along with a host of attractions including the town’s highly-regarded market, Frenchgate Shopping Centre, Sir George Gilbert Scott-designed Minster, The Dome leisure centre, Cusworth Hall and Potteric Carr – a site of special scientific interest - continue to attract visitors to Doncaster.
Askern-born Ros, who has lived in Doncaster all her life, said the borough and its people had suffered knock backs in the past with the closure of the mines but she argued the town was now in a strong place to move forward.
She said: ‘We have great road, rail and air links making Doncaster an important hub and we have sites available for development. There are some exciting schemes in the pipeline. Over the next 10 to 15 years you will see massive changes in this borough.’