By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
A new £5m planetarium and science discovery centre in Ashfield which could help “change the life chances” of local people for years to come has been given the go-ahead.
Ashfield District Council’s planning committee has unanimously backed the state-of-the-art plan for the Sherwood Observatory in Coxmoor Road, Sutton.
Mansfield and Sutton Astronomical Society (MSAS) and the council are working together on the project.
It is supported by about £2m from the £62m Towns Fund pot secured by the council in 2021.
A further £3.1m was secured through the Government Levelling Up Fund in January to help bring the major facility forwards.
The existing astronomical observatory sits near Coxmoor Golf Club on one of Nottinghamshire’s highest pieces of land.
Through the cash, teams behind the project will transform a disused underground Victorian reservoir into a tourism hub and education centre.
The reservoir will be turned into a multi-functional exhibition area including spaces to teach science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.
The planetarium, which will be ten metres wide, would sit on the reservoir’s roof and could accommodate 60 people per show.
Project manager Steve Wallace previously said: “The centre will create a unique visitor attraction and raise the profile of the Ashfield area significantly.
“It will focus on delivering STEM content in an exciting and hands-on way.
“It will also raise awareness of the opportunities in STEM careers and unlock an important aspect of jobs creation in our region.”
Christine Sarris, a senior planning officer at the council, told the planning committee meeting on Wednesday (March 22) the scheme will improve education and learning opportunities.
And Cllr Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind), the authority’s leader, said the plans will “change the life chances for generations to come”.
The plans will also bring improvements to the site, with the planetarium operating as a separate building from the existing observatory, which opened in 1986.
The planetarium will be a separate building from the existing observatory, which opened in 1986.
Fourteen letters were submitted during a planning consultation, with 13 supporting the proposal and one neither objecting nor supporting.
Comments included the schemes being a “brilliant opportunity” and a “fantastic idea”, with one saying it would be a “unique addition” to Ashfield.
Others said the project would improve tourism, benefit the local economy, boost education and support STEM-related learning.
The facility will only be open for pre-booked visits, including school visits, but wouldn’t be open to public walk-in sessions.
This, the authority says, will help to provide a “cap” on the number of people visiting at one time and reduce the impact on traffic.
On the wider plans, a spokesperson for MSAS previously said: “The new centre will be a unique and exciting visitor attraction.
“[It] will play a key role in presenting these subjects in an exciting and hands-on way to raise awareness of the opportunities a STEM career can unlock.
“It will also be a jewel in the crown of the local visitor economy, creating a unique tourist attraction that will be out of this world.”
In the meeting, Cllr David Martin (Ash Ind), who represents Underwood, said he hoped the facility would offer similar tourism benefits to Leicester’s National Space Centre.
Following the unanimous planning approval, councillors say the plans will begin construction later this year and should be open by summer 2024.
Cllr Matt Relf (Ash Ind), cabinet member for regeneration and ward councillor for Sutton Junction and Harlow Wood, added: “It’s a brilliant project and it’s nothing but positive.
“I’m a huge supporter, it will be a massive asset to Ashfield.”