A £35m Science Discovery and Innovation Centre next to Oxford’s historic Castle Mound is expected to attract 150,000 visitors a year.
But concerns have been raised that if the scheme is given the go-ahead it could mean the historic Oxford register office close by could be demolished. Designs of the major visitor attraction will go on public display next week, produced by architects Foster & Partners. A planning application should be submitted before the end of the year and building work is expected to begin in early 2015, with a 2016 opening planned.
The centre, known as the Magnet, will house the UK’s most advanced planetarium and 130-seat domed theatre. It will offer sky at night shows, with visitors offered the chance to journey through the human circulation system and see the structures of the heart.
Macclesfield House, the 1960s building formerly home to the county education department, will be demolished to make way for the centre, which could generate £128m for the economy over 10 years.
The centre will include large galleries, with one dedicated to school children and another serving as “a shop window” for science in the region, with exhibitions on the likes of BMW, Formula One and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.
About 30,000 local schoolchildren a year would visit the centre, with a learning laboratory for more advanced science students. The centre would also be home to 50 companies, with more than 150 people working on the site.
Ian Griffin, chief executive of Science Oxford, said: “We have spent two years thinking carefully about the kind of building that we want and the way we want to interpret science.
“We are proposing a world-class building which reflects the spirit of the centre and enhances its historic setting close to Oxford Castle.”
The planetarium would be shaped like a cut diamond, with its ability to glow in different colours attracting visitors.
But one potential obstacle lies ahead with news that architects want to demolish the Oxford register office on the corner of Tidmarsh Lane and New Road.
Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society is now seeking to have the 100-year-old building listed. The register office previously housed the county council’s education chamber. English Heritage inspectors will visit the site.
Peter Howell, of Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society’s Victorian Group, said: “The building was previously used for council meetings and is important to the history of the county. It is a fine building by the local architect W.A Daft that should not be destroyed.”
Liz Woolley, secretary of the group’s Listed Buildings Committee, said: “Like thousands of others, I was married there. It is valuable for its social function and an important building architecturally.”
Science Oxford currently operates a centre in St Clement’s. So far it has raised £10m towards The Magnet.
Public exhibitions will take place on Wednesday, from 10am-6pm at Science Oxford in St Clements, and on November 24 from 10.30am-5.30pm at Macclesfield House, New Road.