March 8 2014 Latest news:
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Ambitions to turn a pioneering centre for renewable energy into a hotel have been described as “disturbing and morally wrong” by its chairman.
The Green Britain Centre, formerly Ecotech, opened in Swaffham in 1999 as a centre of education and research into green issues.
Its wind turbine was the world’s first to create megawatt energy and the viewing platform designed by legendary architect Sir Norman Foster is the only one in world.
But in a document seen by this newspaper, site owners Breckland District Council says the centre is “under-utilised” and has potential as a hotel instead, creating 408 jobs.
The authority believes a completed hotel at the site could be worth £9.5m – but they say “consideration would will need to be given to possible noise generated by the wind turbine”.
Ian Monson, chairman of the centre and a Norfolk County Councillor, said he was shocked to learn about the proposal and said it would be a “crying shame” if the education centre were lost.
“It should be kept as a public building, that’s the moral side of it,” he said. “It’s far more important to have it as a building of service to the public than to be a privately-run hotel.
“The Green Britain foundation is a charitable organisation who have put an enormous amount of money in to the centre and building it up into an organisation for education and exploring green issues. So to have all of this lost by thinking of building a hotel would be very sad.”
Breckland want to use a Local Asset Backed Vehicle (LABV) to achieve maximum value for its assets, by combining private sector money and skills with public sector property and land to accelerate growth in the area and increase the financial return.
The authority has put the centre on its list of top 28 sites to be regenerated by a private partner over the next two decades.
But Mr Monson said he was concerned the centre was being used “as bait” to entice a company to invest a multi-million pound figure in the scheme.
Breckland’s executive member for assets and strategic development, Mark Kiddle-Morris, said the LABV would generate cash to protect frontline services which are being made vulnerable because of central government cuts.
He said if the contractor could come up with an idea for the Green Britain Centre, then the authority would consider it.
“It’s about weighing up the value financially or as far as education,” he said. “My job is to get the best financial value out of what Breckland owns.
“All of these things will be looked at very carefully. If it was a hotel it would be worth millions and millions – but actually it may do a better job doing what it’s doing. That’s the weigh-up.
“It’s an asset we own. It doesn’t mean we are to take the windmill down.”