AMBITIONS for the world’s first Chinese theme park – a £100m project next to Rother Valley Country Park – were unveiled this week.
Developers are aiming to pull together the finance to develop the former Pit House West opencast coal mine between Rotherham and Sheffield with attractions including Chinese gardens, theatres, restaurants, a temple, a children’s ‘fantasy land’, a Shanghai-style shopping street, a Shaolin pagoda, a hotel and a ‘wellbeing centre’.
They predict Visions of China will be “one of the most original and intriguing day visitor destinations to be created in Britain for decades” and believe it could become a reality in relatively short time because the site already has outline planning permission for a big leisure scheme – the £300m Yes! scheme for a theatre complex, extreme sports centre, spa, conference hotel, exhibition centre, golf range and restaurants.
Yes! eventually became a ‘no’ but the latest leisure developers, including former Alton Towers marketing chief Peter Moore, who was involved in the creation of Center Parcs in the UK, believe that a combination of proven market for top-class theme parks, a fascination with Chinese culture, a location near the M1 and Chinese investment will prove to be a winner.
It is estimated that the cultural theme park could attract up to 1.5m visitors a year, from the UK and overseas, and create 200 jobs during a two-year construction programme and 380 jobs once in operation.
Rotherham Council, which will lease the 120-acre site to a consortium, says only 10% of the site will be built on and that an environmental survey will be part of the planning process.
Project chief executive Mr Moore is working with Dr Lee Kaihung, who had the initial idea of developing a Shaolin temple, and Steven Byrne, chief executive of regeneration specialists MCD Developments.
Mr Moore said it was a unique concept. “It will be beautiful buildings and superb facilities dropped into the middle of the natural environment. There is measurable demand for this type of project within Britain and the key thing is to create an experience visitors will love.”
He recalled that with Center Parcs, “there were sceptics who said you couldn’t get people to go and stay in a resort in the forest in the middle of winter but look what a success that has been. We have also set our prices very reasonably and they will be quite a bit less than Alton Towers.”
Rotherham Council chief executive Martin Green said: “We have not conducted our own economic studies but the consortium have conducted two of their own, by Mintel and KPMG, which have very clearly indicated there is a market for this scheme. We have acted with due diligence.”
Council leader Coun Roger Stone added: “We hope to attract people from across Britain and Europe and even Chinese people when they are visiting the area.”
Details proposals will be submitted to Rotherham Council. As a neighbouring authority, Sheffield will be consulted and is not expected to have any concerns beyond issues such as ensuring surrounding roads can cope with the extra traffic.