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Feilden + Mawson’s Norfolk Broads visitor centre on hold


Feilden + Mawson’s competition-winning Acle Bridge visitor centre on the Norfolk Broads has been put on ice pending a decision on funding

The practice, which has offices in Norwich, Cambridge and London, saw off Mole Architects and emerging outfit Mills Power Architecture to land the £750,000 project a year ago.

But now the client, the Broads Authority, has put the brakes on the scheme following a draft business case which estimated a doubling of scheme’s overall costs to £1.5 million.

The authority will, instead, invest in a series of short-term improvements for the 1.1ha riverfront plot next to the River Bure

A Broads Authority spokesperson said: ‘[We have] been concentrating on the development of short-term facilities for visitors at the site of the Acle Bridge moorings.

‘This has included improvements to the free 24-hour moorings, installation of electric charging points and the reopening of the toilet block and the existing café building. The use of these improvements will help inform our longer-term vision for the site.’

In March, Eastern Daily Press reported a doubling of the project budget to £1.5 million along with concerns the site was too small and would need 90,000 annual visitors to cover its costs.

The Broads Authority, however, dismissed the claims as ‘misleading’ and insisted no budget had been agreed for the scheme and the £750,000 competition figure was merely indicative.

The potential need for additional land, it insisted, was also outlined in the original contest brief. 

A spokesperson said: ‘No planning applications have been prepared or additional land purchased and no decisions taken regarding a major redevelopment on the site.

‘While we would, of course, like to see an iconic visitor and education centre in the Broads National Park, any such decision would be entirely dependent upon the identification of suitable external funding.’

Any decision would be entirely dependent upon the identification of suitable external funding

Meredith Bowles of finalist practice Mole suggested an earlier feasibility study prior to the contest ‘would have brought all these things to light’ to ‘produce a better brief that was more likely to match the business case’.

He argued that participating architects knew the client’s ambitions for an ‘iconic’ building would be hampered by the assumed £750,000 budget ‘which would never be able to deliver this’.

He added: ‘All three shortlisted schemes weighed this up and produced designs that fulfilled one half without the other, on the basis that an “ordinary” building on a tight budget would be unlikely to win.’

The anonymous design competition attracted 95 entries. The plot, next to the A1064, currently features a shop, car parking, private and public moorings and an out-of-use public toilet.

Feilden + Mawson’s winning scheme aimed to transform the site into a major new tourist destination for visitors to the 303km² Broads National Park. It would have provided educational displays and views over the surrounding natural landscape.

The shortlist

  • Acle Bridge National Park & Education Centre Feilden + Mawson (Norwich)
  • The Large White Mole Architects (Cambridge)
  • The Periscope Mills Power Architecture (London)

Readers' comments (2)

  • There are too many shortcomings in the way some of these competitions are organised. The onus should be on the people organising a competition to have a system to assess planning issues before a competition is launched and to assess costs before determining a winner.
    Organisers need to have proper regard for the amount of resource involved in entering such competitions.

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  • A visitor centre which draws in huge numbers of people will ruin the area.

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