Earth Centre closes as visitor numbers drop and debts rise

A A A

The Millennium Commission conceded yesterday that the first British visitor attraction built to celebrate the environment had been built "ahead of its time" as the venue closed its gates amid mounting losses and dismal visitor numbers.

The Millennium Commission conceded yesterday that the first British visitor attraction built to celebrate the environment had been built "ahead of its time" as the venue closed its gates amid mounting losses and dismal visitor numbers.

The £43m lottery-funded Earth Centre opened on colliery spoilheaps near Doncaster, Yorkshire, in 1999, with the high ideal that the public would be interested in the concept of sustainable development.

But after five years of struggle for economic viability, during which Germans and Dutch markets have often seemed more promising than British, its trustees have closed the centre, laid off 51 of its 75 staff and handed management to Doncaster Council, which is now pondering the site's future.

"The reality is [sustainable development] is not yet occupying the minds of the majority of the population," Mike O'Connor, the Millennium Commission's chief executive, said yesterday. "Only now are issues such as global warming making people wake up a bit."

In the mid-1990s, when the concept was being planned as the Commission's first important project, it was reckoned that tourists would pay £8.95 (£4.95 if they left the car at home) to view what was called a "green theme park". The venue was nicknamed the "Northern Dome", and the then Environment minister, Michael Meacher, said it would rival the Millennium Dome.

His words became painfully prophetic. Though the centre boosted trade for north-east ferry operators because the Germans and Dutch loved it, a fifth of the anticipated 500,000 people turned up in the first year to view recycling, sustainability and ecology exhibitions. It closed for 18 months as managers planned to boost profits through the corporate sector.

A new chief executive was appointed, populist attractions were introduced (including a road train, Amazon adventure indoor play area, adventure golf and a children's play galleon) and there were grounds for optimism. Visitor numbers rose 42 per cent in the first four months of last year, from 10,000 to 37,000. The centre appeared to be on course to hit 150,000 visitors and the £2m turnover required to ensure its viability.

But after this year's wet summer prompted a new downturn in visitor figures, the trustees have decided that they could not go on. Doncaster councillors' plans for the place remain uncertain, though it is understood they will stop charging an entrance fee and use it as a recycling centre.

The town's elected mayor, Martin Winter, said the council would be committed to the centre's environmental principles but pledged that taxpayers would not be asked to underwrite running costs.

Mr O'Connor said: "If you are going to make people learn about environmental issues, you have to do it in a way that explains it to them."The benchmark for success has been the Eden Project in Cornwall, where a derelict china clay pit was transformed into the world's largest greenhouse with £42m of millennium funding. Mr O'Connor said Eden had succeeded because it had plants to show off.

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
tv

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
John Moore inspired this Coca Cola Christmas advert
people

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
A Rutherford Raiders shirt with the PornHub sponsorship
football

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie Sheen said he would
tv

Charlie Sheen could be set to revive his role as a hedonistic womaniser

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe gives a strong performance in Horns
film

Review: Alexandre Aja's film is a Twin Peaks-style mystery

News
Apple CEO Timothy Cook
people
News
i100
Life and Style
Jamie Oliver’s version of Jollof rice led thousands of people to post angry comments on his website
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film

Review: Mike Leigh's biopic is a rambling, rich character study

Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment
Shelley Duvall stars in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
film
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Financial Controller - Media, Hospitality / Events

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

Management Accountant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful events and hospital...

The benefits of Recruitment at SThree...

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: SThree, International Recruitme...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Are you looking for a...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes