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Earth Centre scraps green dreams

AMBITIOUS PLANS to use Doncaster's pounds125M Earth Centre as a pioneering test bed for environmentally-friendly construction techniques have been largely abandoned, it was revealed this week.

Severe cash shortages, and a resulting nine month delay in the building programme, means that construction of the Millennium Commission-funded Earth Centre - designed to be the world's largest exhibition complex devoted entirely to sustainable development - is little different from other conventional energy-wasting schemes.

The original brief for the half dozen structures, now being erected on a 142ha abandoned colliery waste tip, was for virtually every construction material to be chosen specifically for its low-energy high-sustainability pedigree.

'We had hoped to have four staff devoted full time to vetting every product and we are disappointed that our contractor has not achieved a better sustainability record,' said Dan Epstein, director of estates and sustainability for client the Earth Centre Trust.

'Lack of time and budget has forced us to reduce our ideals.'

The purpose of the Centre, whose first pounds42M phase opens next Easter, will be to demonstrate - through household examples of sustainability - that individuals can contribute towards a greener future. 'We will have succeeded if everyone goes home with just one simple idea,' said Epstein.

But major fund raising problems matching a pounds50M Millennium Commission Lottery grant forced the planned overall completion date of early 2000 to be abandoned. Instead the project has been divided into three phases, with only one third now under construction. The pounds30M futuristic butterfly- shaped centrepiece, called the Arc, is now unlikely to be completed before 2001 (NCE 4 January 1996).

Peter Byrne, project manager for management contractor Bovis Construction said: 'Insufficient time means we can include only a few small construction initiatives, such as avoiding high polluting plastic materials, but cannot achieve anything revolutionary.

'Our client has not built anything before and, in the real commercial world, his idealist philosophy would take time and money to convert into construction solutions.'

Byrne cited his client's insistence on the use of indigenous timber for cladding and seating as a dubious example of environmentally-friendly construction. He claimed that the ban on imported Canadian Douglas fir - produced from virgin non-replaced forests - in favour of UK- grown fir trees, not only cost the client 50% more but also, ironically, produced more waste.

He said the abundance of knots in British fir trees meant that upward of 60% of the supplied timber is being rejected and left as off cuts, compared to the likely 'negligible' waste from Canadian timber.

Sustainable ideas successfully used include use of locally sourced aggregate, recycling all waste site materials such as steel, wood and paper, plus operating electric rather than diesel powered concrete mixers.

David Hayward

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