Greenham Common gets theme park treatment

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The perimeter fences and most of the peace women have gone, but a chill air of history hangs over Greenham Common. For most people, mention of the 750-acre site will forever trigger memories of nuclear warheads and talk of "mutually assured destruction".

But the former airbase in Berkshire could now be transformed into a waterpark, a peace garden or even a virtual reality nuclear wasteland.

These are just some of the winning ideas in a competition organised by Greenham Common Trust, which bought the site in March 1997, to find ideas for the future use of the airbase. The overall winning idea, officially announced today, is to flood the runways and create a massive water park linked by canals. There would also be a technology park and a Ground Zero museum containing cruise missiles and other Cold War detritus.

Inspiration for the winning proposal, by architects Simon Loring and Mike Smith, was based, somewhat grandly, on a "utopian view of the technology of the information age resolving the issues of the nuclear age, so as not to inflict disasters on future generations". "The symbolic form of Greenham Common must be retained," they said.

The judges, chaired by Sir Norman Foster - and including Berkshire resident Lord Lloyd-Webber - obviously agreed and chose the winners for focusing on the nuclear age.

"For many people, they will always think of Greenham Common and remember peace women and bombs and protests," said a trust spokeswoman.

"The judges were impressed by the way they kept the nuclear theme but looked towards the future," she added.

But it is not certain that Mr Loring and Mr Smith, who received a pounds 10,000 prize, will see their vision acted upon. The trust is using all the ideas it received to spark debate about the future use of the site. Other prize- winning suggestions include establishing a series of gardens with a peace centre, siting a museum of "virtual reality nuclear wastelands" in the missile silos and returning the site to common land, including a field of lavender across the runways.

"It is very much a case that the trust wants to look at all the ideas and decide a way forward. It is possible that the final decision will incorporate elements from different designs," said the spokeswoman.

"There is currently a thriving business park on the site and we will want to incorporate everything together, rather than have a series of piecemeal developments."

She said there would be wide-ranging consultation with local people, including the remaining peace women who still occupy several caravans at the entrance to the business park. It is hoped that funding from a number of sources, including the National Lottery, will be available.

A second competition, launched today by the Royal Society of British Sculptors, aims to find ways of introducing art onto the site.

Greenham Common was turned into an airbase in 1943 to house part of the American D-Day invasion force. In 1979 Nato decided to use it as the base for the US tactical missile squadron, complete with its nuclear warheads. The warheads were shipped back to the States in1991.