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Dunster defiant as trustees slam Earth Centre eco-academy plans

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Plans by Bill Dunster Architects to transform the doomed Earth Centre in Doncaster into the world's first eco-academy have been slated by the park's trustees.

Dunster, who designed the venue's conference centre and cafÚ, hopes to rescue the project by converting it into a university dedicated to sustainability.

The radical step follows Doncaster City Council's refusal to bail out the ailing £60 million project, originally funded by the Millennium Commission.

Designed by an array of British architects, the project opened in 1999 but closed officially in September because of poor visitor figures.

Under Dunster's proposal, the site's conference, exhibition and lecture facilities would be 'cheaply' converted for academic use. He is also pushing for a range of environmentally friendly student housing to be built on site.

The practice has even invited the park's masterplanner, Feilden Clegg Bradley Architects, to join the initiative.

But Earth Centre trustees are less than enthused by the scheme and, in a further twist, have savaged Dunster's original designs for the park.

John Scarrow, chairman of the finance and audit committee for the board of trustees, said: 'I am a civil engineer by profession and I do not think any conversion can be simplistic. There are serious deficiencies in the existing centre.

In retrospect, some things could have been done better.' At the time of going to press, the trustees were due to meet the Millennium Commission on Wednesday (10 November) to discuss proposals for salvaging the centre. A range of options were being put forward, 'some of which' encompassed sustainability. Scarrow confirmed that Dunster's initiative was not under consideration.

A defiant Dunster said he was determined not to let his vision fall by the wayside. 'The Earth Centre was designed as a holistic project but lost its way because of the twits who changed it into a theme park, which was completely misguided, ' he said. 'We want to move towards a specialist centre for studying sustainability.'

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