The full story behind the Earth Centre's closure may never be known but I am just saddened that the wonderful opportunity the project presented is being lost and the great buildings on the site are now lying empty.
Following on from your mentions (AJ 11.11.04), there has been much in the press over past weeks about its failure and its uncertain future.
However, it must not be forgotten that the project successfully reclaimed two pit heads and associated spoil heaps that would have lain derelict for generations, as Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (DMBC) was unlikely to have the cash to fund the remediation required, let alone the creation of the wonderful country park it now has.
Is it possible DMBC was never concerned about the success of the visitor attraction, only anxious about the reclamation kick-starting the regeneration of Conisbrough? (You can now buy 'executive' homes adjacent to the Earth Centre. ) As for the Earth Centre trustees not liking Bill Dunster's ideas or his conference centre, this typifies the narrow-minded thinking that helped to put the centre where it is today.
My experience of Dunster's wonderful conference centre has perhaps been closer than many.
I celebrated a birthday there a couple of years ago, which was a wonderful evening with attentive staff, and I also married my husband (architect Geoff Olner) in the conference centre on the last weekend it was open (one of only a couple of weddings carried out there).
The site works brilliantly for events, the River Lodge accommodation is superb for the cost, and the conference centre is flexible and adaptable, and was enthusiastically appreciated by the 100 or so people who attended. The building provided a wonderful setting for the ceremony, a great space for the reception and plenty of variety for later. It accommodated a string quartet on a 'minstrel's gallery', a 'vestry' for signing the register, a stage for a solo acoustic guitarist and a rock band, dressing room, a bar, a children's television room, a buffet space, a 'quiet room', all wonderfully accessible for the disabled and elderly in our party. Doncaster does not have a more suitable building in such a wonderful setting.
If it has any deficiencies, these are minor in comparison with its pioneering spirit, sense of fun and adventure.
As for the future of the Earth Centre, we have often thought it would make a great base for a green business/light industrial park. There is a need to cluster green suppliers/manufacturers together for mutual support, to offer training perhaps (like the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales and Construction Resources in London), and then to find support for the marvellous education work the centre previously carried out with schools.
Not exactly a university but an educational opportunity.
Dunster is right to make suggestions to DMBC to look at other options other than considering it as a location for its own call centre or asylum seekers.
Much 'living' machinery and low technology now lies slowly dying while its future is argued over. If my Lottery jackpot comes up this week, I'll be giving Bill a call.
Cath Basilio, senior architect, architects division, Sheffield Design and Property