By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
A state-of-the-art new £5m planetarium and science discovery centre in Ashfield could be given planning approval next week.
Ashfield District Council’s planning committee will meet on Wednesday (March 22) to discuss the plan, which will be on the same site as the current Sherwood Observatory.
Mansfield and Sutton Astronomical Society (MSAS) and the council are working together on the project.
It is backed 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 astronomical observatory sits near Coxmoor Golf Club, on Coxmoor Road, on one of Nottinghamshire’s highest pieces of land.
Through the cash, teams behind the project plan to transform a disused underground Victorian reservoir into a tourism hub and education centre.
The reservoir would be turned into a multi-functional exhibition area including spaces to teach science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.
The planetarium, which would 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.”
Planning documents say the scheme would improve education and learning opportunities and turn the site into a regional attraction.
The authority added: “[It will] enhance regional learning opportunities and increase the leisure offer to visitors by providing educational and interactive spaces via a new planetarium.
“Exhibition spaces, classrooms, conference rooms and external telescope deck for use by schools, community groups and wider members of the public [are also on offer].”
The planning application, which is recommended for approval next week, will also bring improvements to the site.
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.
Documents confirm the facility would 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.”