Historic register office may go to make way for science centre

An artist’s impression of the Science Discovery and Innovation Centre

Liz Woolley outside the Oxford register office

First published in News The Oxford Times: Photograph of the Author by , Oxford Times Chief Reporter. Call me on 01865 425434

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 hear

t.

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.

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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.

Comments (7)

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1:39pm Fri 16 Nov 12

EMBOX1 says...

I thought we stopped demolishing old buildings in the 1980s when people realised we might want to keep them for future generations??

Honestly. Foster & Partners, not based here, don't care for the local area. Macclesfield House can be pulled down, but not the registry office.
I thought we stopped demolishing old buildings in the 1980s when people realised we might want to keep them for future generations?? Honestly. Foster & Partners, not based here, don't care for the local area. Macclesfield House can be pulled down, but not the registry office. EMBOX1
  • Score: -1

1:40pm Fri 16 Nov 12

Andrew:Oxford says...

There's no reason why the Daft building shouldn't be dismantled (rather than demolished) and re-erected elsewhere.

It could be rebuilt across the road on the corner of the "canal basin" car park or perhaps moved to Quainton adjacent to the former Oxford Railway station.

Something could be done with the DDA compliance at the same time.
There's no reason why the Daft building shouldn't be dismantled (rather than demolished) and re-erected elsewhere. It could be rebuilt across the road on the corner of the "canal basin" car park or perhaps moved to Quainton adjacent to the former Oxford Railway station. Something could be done with the DDA compliance at the same time. Andrew:Oxford
  • Score: 1

2:47pm Fri 16 Nov 12

Gunslinger says...

Personally I don't think there is anything particularly 'special' about the Register Office building.

Nothing said about where or what the replacement Register Office would be.

Most large towns have this a little way out from the centre, where the surroundings may be a little more picturesque and there is adequate car parking.
Personally I don't think there is anything particularly 'special' about the Register Office building. Nothing said about where or what the replacement Register Office would be. Most large towns have this a little way out from the centre, where the surroundings may be a little more picturesque and there is adequate car parking. Gunslinger
  • Score: 3

6:12pm Fri 16 Nov 12

Myron Blatz says...

Might be mistaken, but wasn't the 'historic registery office' originally the somewhat more historic Police Station? As for the proposed redevelopment into a science wonderland to attract 150,000+ tourists each year, can't honestly say the redeveloped castle and old prison site has exactly been a blockbuster success story - depite all the money poured into the development, and the sales and marketing hype. In any case, there isn't sufficient car parking even now at the old canal basin - and some idiots would even like to see that dug-out and made into a boat marina! Also, and more especially, that there is no room for coaches to park - and 50-odd tourists aren't going to want to get off their coach and route-march from Oxpens, or take the Park-and-Ride!
Might be mistaken, but wasn't the 'historic registery office' originally the somewhat more historic Police Station? As for the proposed redevelopment into a science wonderland to attract 150,000+ tourists each year, can't honestly say the redeveloped castle and old prison site has exactly been a blockbuster success story - depite all the money poured into the development, and the sales and marketing hype. In any case, there isn't sufficient car parking even now at the old canal basin - and some idiots would even like to see that dug-out and made into a boat marina! Also, and more especially, that there is no room for coaches to park - and 50-odd tourists aren't going to want to get off their coach and route-march from Oxpens, or take the Park-and-Ride! Myron Blatz
  • Score: -2

6:25pm Sun 18 Nov 12

Pavinder Msvarensy says...

It is only just over 400 visitors per day, So take away the locals who will walk there, and independent visitors who will come by train or arrive at Gloucester Green, that only leaves about 2 or 3 coach parties a day, so not really a massive problem. And as for the prison attraction, it has not been a roaring success because it is rubbish. It is billed as The Castle Unlocked, but infact all you see of the castle is a few seconds in the crypt, followed by a walk through the few old cells and open areas of the prison that have not been taken over for the hotel, and a climb up the old tower. I was very disappointed.
It is only just over 400 visitors per day, So take away the locals who will walk there, and independent visitors who will come by train or arrive at Gloucester Green, that only leaves about 2 or 3 coach parties a day, so not really a massive problem. And as for the prison attraction, it has not been a roaring success because it is rubbish. It is billed as The Castle Unlocked, but infact all you see of the castle is a few seconds in the crypt, followed by a walk through the few old cells and open areas of the prison that have not been taken over for the hotel, and a climb up the old tower. I was very disappointed. Pavinder Msvarensy
  • Score: 2

11:58pm Sun 18 Nov 12

Myron Blatz says...

Not as bad as 'The Oxford Story' - that Broad Street rip-off which was more 'Yorkie Bar' than Jorvik. The only time I went there with family and kids, the desks which you were supposed to sit in as you progressed around Oxford's history, weren't working - we had to walk around! Typically 'Oxford' we were told we couldn't get a refund - another reason I never went back. Instead, maybe City Council can make money from tourists by having walking tours of the refurbished public toilets - the only 'seat of learning' many will ever be able to afford?
Not as bad as 'The Oxford Story' - that Broad Street rip-off which was more 'Yorkie Bar' than Jorvik. The only time I went there with family and kids, the desks which you were supposed to sit in as you progressed around Oxford's history, weren't working - we had to walk around! Typically 'Oxford' we were told we couldn't get a refund - another reason I never went back. Instead, maybe City Council can make money from tourists by having walking tours of the refurbished public toilets - the only 'seat of learning' many will ever be able to afford? Myron Blatz
  • Score: 1

10:06am Mon 19 Nov 12

oxchris says...

This new tourist attraction sounds dreadful and not in keeping with the castle area at all. I hope the register office is listed or can be incorporated somehow.

PS I actually liked the 'Oxford Story'
This new tourist attraction sounds dreadful and not in keeping with the castle area at all. I hope the register office is listed or can be incorporated somehow. PS I actually liked the 'Oxford Story' oxchris
  • Score: -2

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