By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
New pictures show the underground Victorian reservoir due to be transformed into a state-of-the-art planetarium in Ashfield.
The Mansfield and Sutton Astronomical Society and Ashfield District Council have been working together on the new plans, based at the existing Sherwood Observatory.
The Coxmoor Road plans were unanimously backed by council planners this week with the major new facility expected to open for visitors next year.
The plans will involve refurbishing the underground reservoir and building a planetarium building above it.
The centre will then be used as an educational facility for science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects and will act as a tourism hub for school groups.
Now new council pictures have shown the underground structure laying beneath the Observatory which will be transformed.
Photographs show the existing brick structure and water at the subterranean site.
Once complete, it will be refurbished and turned into an exhibition hall, with classrooms, meeting and conference rooms above.
The planetarium, which will be ten metres wide, will sit on the reservoir’s roof and could accommodate 60 people per show.
Christine Sarris, assistant director for planning at the authority, said in Wednesday’s meeting: “If you haven’t been inside the reservoir, it is absolutely fascinating.
“It’s an old, subterranean Victorian reservoir and it’s absolutely brilliant that it’s going to be retained.
“The pictures give a glimpse of the fantastic Victorian architecture beneath.
“In the proposal, all of this will be dry and very much cleaned up so you can see it in all its potential glory.
“I’m excited by this project, it will result in a STEM environment which will enhance our local and regional learning opportunities.
“This fits extremely well with the council’s skills agenda as well as the visitor economy.”
The upgraded reservoir and planetarium will adjoin the existing Sherwood Observatory, which has operated in the area since 1986.
The plans come as part of the authority’s £62.6m Towns Fund pot secured from the Government in 2021, with £2m allocated for the project.
A further £3.1m was provided through the Levelling Up Fund in January 2023.
Once open, the facility will not be open to public walk-ins and will only be available for pre-booked visits such as school trips.
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.
Speaking during the planning meeting, Cllr Matt Relf (Ash Ind), cabinet member for regeneration, said the project will be transformational.
Cllr Relf, who also represents the ward where the project will be based, added: “I’m a huge supporter of this project, it’s an exceptional asset not just for Ashfield but the region in total.
“Sherwood Observatory already does incredible outreach to schools and the feedback we get from that is brilliant.
“This allows them to spark the interest of young people and parents across the area to engage with STEM and become the next generation of scientists and engineers.
“[This is] is something that is incredibly exciting.”
Construction on the project will begin later this year with an expected opening date of summer 2024.
A spokesperson for MSAS 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.”