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In 2008 URBED were commissioned by the Dearne Valley Special Board (a thematic sub group of the Sheffield City Region Development Programme) to undertake the Dearne Valley Vision Project.
The aim is to give a clear 'ecological' direction to the next phase of the former coal field communities' economic and social regeneration, seen as being at something of a cross-roads following two decades of recovery and remediation following the Thatcher government's pit closures.
URBED's role has been to show how the Dearne can move from the 'carbon production' of a generation back to become an exemplar of 'carbon reduction' by 2020.
The River Dearne runs through Barnsley and the north of Rotherham, and joins the River Don at Mexborough in Doncaster. The Dearne Valley refers to a 'post-industrial', semi rural landscape at the edge of the three urban boroughs, famous until the late 20th century for intense coal and rail related industrial activity.
The Vision - 'from Carbon Production to Carbon Reduction'
‘The future of the Dearne Valley will be re-imagined by an eco-vision.
The vision is of a place transformed by the know-how of its people and by the imagination and commitment of its communities and enterprises.
It will be a place defined by action, in the knowledge that time is running out for the status quo. Within a decade it will be the lowest carbon community of its kind in the country. A pioneer proud to tell its story and share its experiences.
Using its distinct resources, assets and potential as a foundation, the Dearne will build a lean, green economy in preparation for the challenges that lie ahead.
But above all the eco-vision will rekindle the work ethic of the Dearne’s forefathers, providing a renewed sense of purpose and inspiration for the next generation.’
Although seen as somewhat peripheral to the main urban areas of South Yorkshire, the thirteen or so settlements of the Dearne collectively house some 80,000 people - equivalent to a small city the size of Lincoln. As individual towns however, places like Wath, Swinton, Thurnscoe, Goldthorpe and Conisborough struggle to 'punch their weight' in the fight for investment and residents.
Huge resources have been dedicated to the rescue and regeneration of the Dearne following the coal closure programme, with vast areas of land remediated and landscaped, major new employment sites developed, and an extensive highways infrastructure constructed.
Thousands of jobs have been generated and the coal blackened landscape greened beyond recognition. Road access to the M1 is now superb. Never-the-less, the new economy is based around low value employment like call-centres and distribution, and long term worklessness and deprivation issues remain acute. Settlement identity has to a degree been subsumed by a 'placeless' landscape of dual carriageways and large sheds. Movement patterns are increasingly car-based, posing problems for those without access to private transport.
The existence of the Dearne Valley Special Board reflects appreciation of the real progress made and exciting opportunities to be realised through continued cross boundary working between the three boroughs of Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster, and the wider Sheffield City Region. The Dearne's natural environment is superb in places, with the Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, Natural England and RSPB actively managing some of the most important aquatic and avian wildlife habitats in the UK, notably the Old Moor reserve. Community activity remains strong and civic pride is reflected in places like Kilnhurt, where volunteers and staff with Groundwork have co-ordinated an array of new facilities including a Millennium Hall, parks and playspaces.