What on Earth is going on?

The Earth Centre has gone....but to whom?
The Earth Centre has gone....but to whom?

DONCASTER Council has rejected the Conisbrough and Denaby communities’ scheme for redeveloping the ill-fated Earth Centre, locals have told the Times.

And the angry community leaders have slammed the council for refusing to tell them why... or even who HAS clinched the deal!

The council’s Cabinet met on February 16 to decide the fate of the centre. Bids to decide the future of the failed green visitor attraction which swallowed some £50m of public cash before it was mothballed in 2004, were judged and a winner was decided.

But the council has turned down the community–led consortium, Life Park – who proposed a “green” business park with conference and exhibition facilities – in favour of an as-yet secret deal.

This week the authority was still keeping tight–lipped about the winning bid, telling the Times only that an announcement would be made in the “near future”.

Local community members were told by email they had failed – but the council would not tell them what the future holds, or whether they will have any input into it.

Locals feel they are being kept in the dark about the successful bid and excluded from a huge publicly-funded project on their doorstep.

Life Park consortium is made up of conservationists, universities, environmental trainers, social enterprise developers and environmental sustainability companies.

A community group, The Fourth Pillar, have been meeting regularly at The Place in Conisbrough and Craganour Community Centre in Denaby over the last year, to discuss the plans.

John Williams, of The Fourth Pillar, lashed: “I think the council has run roughshod over the people of Conisbrough and Denaby. It seems they are not interested in their needs or aspirations.

“Universities and big business were backing us. I think they feel people in Conisbrough and Denaby are stupid. All we got was an email telling us we were not the preferred bidder.

“We have put in a lot of work and it would have stayed in the community as a community enterprise. We wait with baited breath.”

Jim Tierney, of Craganour TARA added: “We are very disappointed our bid wasn’t accepted. We ARE the community and we want to know what’s going to happen on our doorstep, not this cloak and dagger nonsense. It’s just not fair. This community has been robbed – it’s absolutely disgraceful”.

“We wanted a Yorkshire version of the Eden Project, our version of a horticultural site with training and jobs for locals. Now it looks like it will not happen.”

Life Park planned to use 50 acres of the 400-acre site. Derelict land was to be restored as nature habitats, while a solar park would also be set up as a research area to investigate the potential of solar farms as food sources.

Under the plans, the site would be held in trust for the community and owned by the shareholders on a one-member, one-vote basis. Land would be leased by Life Park to other organisations for commercial use, as long as they conformed to the objectives.

The Fourth Pillar was one of four strategic partners in the bid to turn the site into a resource for jobs, education, enterprise and enjoyment.

The other partner organisations were the non-profit Rapid Technology Transfer Group – specialising in business-based education – Camberwell a leading social enterprise developer and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Chris Hill, of Camberwell put together the Life Park bid following two years of negotiations.

He said: “We are very disappointed, to say the least, after all this work.

“We wonder what is going to happen on this site but there appears to be some sort of commercial secrecy surrounding the preferred bid.”

Last year, Doncaster Council revealed it cost £200,000 just to maintain the site and Mayor Peter Davies has described the Earth Centre as “one of the largest disasters in the country”.