Q+A with the Mayor of Doncaster: City centre plans, council finances and housing schemes

The Local Democracy Reporting Service spoke to the Mayor of Doncaster Ros Jones this week to discuss pressing issues across the borough.
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Do you have any plans to prevent closures of businesses in Doncaster city centre and improve footfall and will you be lobbying for funding from the SYMCA such as the recent £55 million awarded to Barnsley?

Mayor Ros Jones said: “Barnsley’s £55 million was from their gainshare allocation from the SYMCA, as I have said previously my number one priority is seeking to reopen Doncaster Sheffield Airport and therefore we need to retain that sum of money in order to facilitate that.

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“High streets across the country are struggling, the reality is people are shopping differently, and they continue to shop differently. Therefore we have a masterplan for Doncaster, called the urban centre masterplan. It sees an increase in city centre living, leisure, culture and education, and supports a retail reduced offering.

Mayor Ros Jones.Mayor Ros Jones.
Mayor Ros Jones.

“We want to expand on great places like our UTC, and opening up other areas such as the Corn Exchange which is under intensive renovation using other funding that’s coming in. We also have several town centres to focus on, as we are a place of places.”

The Corn Exchange is set to open in Spring next year following renovation.

“We’re also doing all we can to improve access to the town centre using government transport funding over the past six years, we’ve focused on active travel to encourage people to either walk or cycle. We’ve been selected as a levelling up partner, which will see interventions within the city centre to boost economic growth and we expect more details on this in the next few months as the current timeline is for this to commence mid next year.

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“Let’s not forget cost of living is affecting every town centre as people are struggling, but we’re seeing our footfall being quite buoyant at the moment. We’re utilising all the different funds in our armory to stimulate town centres, but as I’ve said all along my priority is DSA.”

Currently 9 percent of retail stores in Doncaster city centre are vacant, which is significantly lower than the national average.

What can you do as a council to prevent city centre businesses from closing shortly after they have opened?

“We have different grants that people can apply for from Business Doncaster, and to support people when they’re starting new businesses also. The best thing people in Doncaster can do is what we do as an authority, shop locally.

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“We spend about 70 percent of our funding on local businesses, and that’s all about keeping the economy going, what I call the ‘Donny pound’. It’s a continual win-win when we shop local.”

Following the approval of the resubmitted Rose Hill housing scheme, do you believe that the council’s planning process is fit for purpose and would you have any powers to change it?

“Our Local Plan was approved in 2021, it was unanimous support from councillors of all parties, and this particular plot has been allocated for housing in the plan for over 20 years. It’s been through a rigorous inspection by government inspector and therefore we continue on.

“We have a Local Plan which we will review when required, and there’s usually a five year period before you review these.”

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Following further councils declaring bankruptcy, is the council still safe from risk of bankruptcy?

“The council, like every other council within the country, has had massive reductions over the last 13 years, but we are a well-run, financially managed council, and I want to reassure residents as whilst we are under significant pressure, Doncaster Council is still in a stable financial position.

“In the foreseeable future we will not be declaring a Section 114.”

Will tighter budgets be seen next year given these financial pressures?

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“As there are growing demands for services, bearing in mind we spend 67 percent of our budgets on adults and children’s social care, that leaves a smaller budget to be spent elsewhere.

“What we need is a guarantee of funding coming in year on year, instead of getting one year settlements, and we need proper funding of services.”

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