Happy New Year to you all and I hope you had a good Christmas too.
The start of a new year is an opportunity for us all to focus on what we want to achieve in the year ahead.
For many of us it is personal goals, resolving to get fit, or learning a new skill, but in my role as Leader of the Council, it’s also an opportunity for me to look at what we want to achieve as a district.
Our success since the start of the recession, followed by the relentless cuts in funding from government, has been our commitment to investment aimed at protecting and growing our economy, maintaining our roads, providing leisure facilities, ensuring our towns, heritage and our culture endures.
It’s this commitment that has set us apart from many other councils and is set to continue into 2017.
The Wakefield Eastern Relief Road (WERR) will open this Spring. This has been a £33m investment in our district from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority. It is a major development, not just for Wakefield but for the whole of the region. The road will reduce traffic congestion, improve links to motorways, and help deliver thousands of new jobs, as well as opening up a new community of more than 2,000 new homes.
Work then starts in Kirkgate, yet another piece in the jigsaw to transform this area. It will deliver £6m of road improvements for drivers and pedestrians and will finally see the subways removed.
The redevelopment of Rutland Mills gets underway in January, a project which will transform over 100,000 sq ft of derelict buildings and eventually complete the City’s historic Waterfront regeneration. Property developers City & Provincial Properties PLC plan to turn this area into the ‘creative hub’ of the north, ambitions that would make Wakefield a significant cultural destination in the North of England.
Leisure facilities in this district are set to get huge investment in 2017. Contractors are on site this week at Minsthorpe to build the new £5m leisure centre and we are proposing to build a £14.8m complex in Pontefract Park. If this new investment does go ahead, our current facilities at Castleford and Knottingley will have to close. The government cuts have wiped £146m off our budget so far, and have forced us to consider these difficult decisions.
But, unlike many other councils who are just closing leisure centres, Wakefield is actually trying to invest to provide bigger and better facilities for our residents.
We are expecting the developers of the £135m Five Towns Park in Castleford to submit details of the initial groundworks and landscaping proposals shortly. Detailed designs for the country park, retail units and stadium are planned to be ready in Spring and Summer 2017.
These are just some of the investment highlights that we will see this year. There are many more going on right across the district, improving our roads, parks and schools, as well as continued investment in our day-to-day services.
The decade of government cuts looks set to continue and the investment we want to make going forward will get even harder to find. But, wherever we can, we will continue to invest in our residents and in the future of our district.