Thirty years after closing as a colliery, ambitious new plans have been launched to turn a vast area of land near Rother Valley country park into a family-friendly theme park.
But after previous development proposals for the land fell by the wayside, will it really be ‘third time lucky’ for the Pithouse West site?
It was announced last week that Gulliver’s Family Theme Parks intends to spend around £37 million turning the site into a massive leisure facility, involving not only a theme park but also a woodland adventure centre, an education and ecology centre and 100-bedroom hotel.
After purchasing the site of the former Brookhouse Colliery from the Coal Authority in 2001, Rotherham Council has been searching for a suitable developer for the site.
It has now agreed in principle to sell the 333-acre site to Gulliver’s, which currently run parks at Matlock Bath, Warrington and Milton Keynes.
The decision is subject to certain conditions being met and planning permission being approved but, if successful, building work could start as early as next year.
The construction process is expected to create around 120 jobs, with the theme park taking around two years to build and the rest of the scheme a further decade.
The finished park is projected to result in more than 250 full-time jobs for the area and generate £11m per year for the local economy.
The news has been met with excitement – as well as some scepticism from those aware of the protracted history of attempts to find a new use for the area.
Previous proposals for the site that never came to fruition include the ill-fated £350m YES! project, which was intended to include a new 5,000-seater arena for the Sheffield Steelers ice hockey team as part of Europe’s largest undercover leisure complex that would have created 3,000 jobs.
After that long-mooted idea was dropped in January 2011 due to a lack of progress, an alternative proposal was put forward for the site to become the home of a £100m Chinese theme park later that year.
The Visions of China development was promoted as a scheme that would have ‘authentically-built and landscaped Chinese environment’.
Promised attractions at the site were going to include Oriental lakes and gardens, as well as a Chinatown retail street, a Shaolin temple and cultural centre, theatre, children’s fantasy land, restaurants, an oriental spa, pavilions, a pagoda and a hotel.
Once again, developers promised it would bring hundreds of jobs to the area on the ambitious basis that the theme park would attract around 1.5 million visitors a year.
But that scheme was cancelled by Rotherham Council last August after a similar lack of progress in making the development a reality.
Council bosses are now determined to ensure the latest plan comes to fruition.
A report by council development officers to Commissioner Julie Kenny said: “Given that the two previous arrangements to bring forward development of the site have been terminated on grounds of non-performance, it is crucial that robust and challenging timescales are set for delivery of any new development on the property.”
It added: “The development of this site contributes to several of the council’s key themes, the principal one relating to jobs investment and growth.
“There is no doubt that if a leisure project is delivered on this site, it would be a significant contributor to the local economy and would offer considerable benefits to the adjacent Rother Valley Country Park.”
The final terms of the sale agreement are to be negotiated over the next eight weeks, with a planning application for the Gulliver’s Valley attraction due to be submitted before the end of the year.
Commissioner Kenny said it is hoped Gulliver’s reputation will mean things are different this time when it comes to getting the proposals off the ground.
She said: “This is a second-generation family-run business with a proven track record for building and operating family entertainment developments and I am proud that Gulliver’s has chosen the borough to develop their Valley Resort.
“It is third time lucky for the council in the sale of this important site as two different sale agreements were entered into in the past decade.
“Both the previous agreements were terminated due to lack of progress but this time we are dealing with a self-financing family company who have been operating successfully for nearly 40 years.”
Plans include a year- round family resort aimed at two- to 13-year-olds offering rides, attractions, soft play and indoor fun, centred on themed areas around a main fairytale castle.
Other phases in the future include a woodland adventure centre, an education and ecology centre, a 100-bedroom hotel and 300 woodland lodges and ‘glamping’.
Julie Dalton, managing director of Gulliver’s, said: “We’re really excited at the prospect of realising our dreams at Gulliver’s Valley and reproducing all the best elements of our three UK parks together on one site.
“We want to create a ‘whole park feel’, with nature trails, walks, outdoor gyms and woodland runs which can be used by our guests and the local community alike. Plus of course, the family theme park hub, which will be developed and operated in line with our core value of providing great value family days out that are big on fun.”
Creation of theme park aimed at two- to 13-year-olds involving a fairytale castle, rides and attractions.
Building of camping and caravan site, woodland adventure centre and education and ecology centre
Construction of 100-bedroom hotel and ‘village centre’ around lake with spa and fitness centre, restaurant, craft centre, wedding chapel, fishing lodge and resort trails
PHASES 4 AND 5
Completion of 300 woodland lodges and development of Dream Village offering specially designed and adapted accommodation where seriously and terminally-ill children and children with special needs can go for free respite weeks and getaways.