The firm bought the land from Rotherham Council a year ago, and yesterday’s announcement is the first indication of progress on a project that has been beset with delays and false dawns.
Pithouse West was the site of Brookhouse Colliery, which closed in 1985. In 2003 it was announced it would be the home of a £350m project called YES!, encompassing a 5,000-seat arena for the Sheffield Steelers ice hockey team, and the biggest undercover leisure complex in Europe.
The plan, which would have created 3,000 jobs, was dropped nearly six years ago in favour of a £100m theme park called Visions of China, which promised a Shaolin temple, a theatre, pagoda and hotel. The council cancelled the scheme two years ago, blaming a lack of progress.
The latest proposals, put at a more modest £37m, will see the staged building of a children’s theme park, with construction spaced over 12 to 15 years, depending on weather and market conditions. Eventually, 125 full-time and 325 part-time jobs are expected to be created.
If the new plans are approved, construction could start next year, with the first phase due for completion in 2020.
It is projected that the full development will attract up to 25,000 visitors a week during the peak season.
The new theme park will be called Gulliver’s Valley, with attractions for children aged 2-13, built around a fairytale castle. More than 40 rides will be created alongside the 20m high castle and a 40m rotating observation tower.
There will also be three themed hotels with a total of 244 bedrooms, holiday lodges and a spa. Eventually, an indoor water play zone, climbing area and an ecology centre for young children will be added.
The plans also include a “dream village” in which seriously and terminally-ill children will be given free holidays in special accommodation, and a series of nature trails, outdoor gyms and woodland runs for use by the local community as well as paying visitors.
Gulliver’s managing director, Julie Dalton, said: “These are our most ambitious plans to date. As our fourth theme park project, Gulliver’s Valley will bring together the best elements of our existing parks plus a huge amount of our experience and learning from the last 38 years since my father opened our very first park in Matlock Bath.”
She said the plans had been produced after a year of discussions with council officials and a series of consultation events for local residents.
She added: “Gulliver’s Valley is set to give the area an economic boost as we look to use a local supply chain and bring tourism pounds into the local economy. It will be a real positive for the Rother Valley community.”
Julie Kenny, one of four commissioners sent in to manage Rotherham Council after the government placed it in special measures last year, said at the time of the sale to Gulliver’s: “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.”