SPECIAL REPORT; ‘Hundreds of jobs to come’ in Earth Centre sell-off

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Denaby’s derelict Earth Centre site is to become a kids’ adventure and education centre, Doncaster Council has announced.

DMBC have sold the failed eco-themed tourist attraction to Kingswood Education+Adventure – a national company specialising in children’s outdoor activity centres – for an undisclosed fee.

FORLORN: but the Earth Centre is now facing a bright new future, thanks to Kingswood.

FORLORN: but the Earth Centre is now facing a bright new future, thanks to Kingswood.

In a project Kingswood bosses say will cost “many millions”, they plan to build a 400-bed international outdoor activity residential centre to open in Spring 2012 for schools and youth groups across the globe – with 400 more beds to come if the venture proves succesful.

And the Norwich-based company – part of Education Travel Group – have promised to create around 200 new jobs for local residents over the next 18 months.

The authority announced Kingstone as their “preferred purchaser” for the site late yesterday afternoon, after the ruling cabinet voted for their plans at a secret meeting earlier this month.

Speaking to the Times, Kingswood’s managing director Linda Addy, said she was “absolutely delighted” to have the winning bid, after the council invited offers for the 50-acre site last autumn.

She said the the company, who have been interested in the former Cadeby Colliery site since the Earth Centre closed in 2004, planned to “rejuvenate” the attraction.

They aim to keep many of the existing buildings – including the education centre and the water treatment plant – to use as a educational facility for visiting youngsters.

“We’re going to bring the former Earth Centre back to life”, she said.

Kingswood already have eight residential centres in Britain and one in France.

They propose to build a high-adrenaline ropes park with zip wires as well an an 11,000 sq foot sports hall, indoor and outdoor amphitheatres, performing arts facilities and classrooms.

The new centre will also have resources for non-English-speaking children, as part of Kingswood’s desire to make the site welcoming to international students.

But the company are keen to forge strong links with groups closer to home too.

According to Doncaster Council, Kingswood has agreed a substantial subsidy for schools in Doncaster, to make the proposed site accessible to local youngsters.

And Kingswood bosses said they mean to meet Conisbrough and Denaby’s “Fourth Pillar” group – part of the failed “Life Park” bid – to discuss community involvement.

John Bentley, Kingswood’s business development director, said: “Until now we’ve been been unable meet members of the group because of the nature of the tender process. But we intend to address that now and to talk to community leaders to discuss involvement. We would like their feedback.

“We will also be holding public consulation on the plans at the Ivanhoe Centre in April, when we submit our development for the council’s planning process”.

If the plans are passed, Kingswood hope to start building work later this summer, ready for paying customers in Spring 2012.

Mr Bentley said around 200 construction, domestic, catering and training jobs would be created, and the company hoped to recruit from local colleges.

But their new recruits will have their work cut out to make sure the centre is up and running in a year’s time.

Said Mr Bentley: “Some of the land is a bit of a jungle at the minute, and will need some restoration work”.

The activities planned for the site are not finalised yet, but the directors said they would like to make use of the River Don, which borders the land, for some outdoor pursuits. However, the land’s own heritage is also central to their plans.

Said Mrs Addy: “There are fantastic features that the site already has which we would like to use.

“The Earth’s Centre’s water treatment centre will be used to educate visitor about how water is harvested. And the site had a wonderful orchard, which has now become over grown, which we hope to revitalise and use”.

“We are so excited about coming to Conisbrough and Denaby and to add it to a our current portfolio”, she added.

The chairman of the Fourth Pillar community group, Ian Pearson, told the Times he was pleased Kingswood’s plans to create jobs – provided they were for local people.

He said: “I do hope that people are not brought in from other areas, to fill these jobs.

“It is a huge site and I would like to see the plans because it will be one heck of an adventure playground if it fills it.”

He added: “There has also been £50m of expenditure spent on those eco-friendly buildings and I would like to see them retained. I would not like to see them being demolished”.

DMBC would not say what the selling price was, but Mayor Peter Davies said: “This is a very exciting development. Their bid represents a unique and natural continuation of the site’s heritage as a centre for learning, focused on environmental sustainability and targeting young people.”

Coun Jonathan Wood added: “We have said that whoever takes on this site needs a business model that is sustainable without any injection of public money. Kingswood will run the 50-acre site as a wholly private business.”