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‘Magnet will be a big draw for city’
THE man behind Oxford’s £35m Science Discovery and Innovation Centre has urged people to see the “big picture”. Steve Burgess, chief executive of Science Oxford, said there is a false perception that it is all about arts and humanities and that the importance of science and engineering in Oxford and across the county is underplayed.
He said: “There is a need to see the bigger picture. Oxford Brookes is doing some fantastic work in engineering and you have to look at the wider region and not just the science and research taking place within the ring road.”
Mr Burgess, 55, took up the Magnet project, the visitor attraction planned for land adjacent to the Castle Mound in New Road, last month. It is hoped the project will be a new visitor centre and educational facility and also a city centre home for up to 50 small innovative businesses.
Mr Burgess says Oxford has fallen behind other university cities in promoting itself as a centre of scientific excellence, with the Magnet expected to help put things right.
He said: “Looking at Oxford in terms of science communication, it is under-represented on the national stage. It does not have a joined up approach to science communication and public engagement.”
Formerly the Oxford Trust, Science Oxford had a visitor centre in St Clements but when the Macclesfield House site became available, the opportunity was seen to create something on an altogether different scale.
The 1960s building, which formerly housed the county education department, would be demolished but more controversially, the 100-year-old Register Office, the work of local architect W.A.Daft, on the corner of Tidmarsh Lane and New Road, would also go.
Science Oxford faced two challenges: working with an unusually shaped site and wanting the Magnet to be self sufficient.
Mr Burgess said: “There is no point in us building something that is not sustainable. We are a charity, so it will have to pay its way. We have an option to buy the register office but there would be no point in taking it up unless we are able to build on it.”
The original plan tried to include too much on the site, in the view of some conservationists. Mr Burgess said the height of the buildings had been reduced, with none to be taller than the existing Macclesfield House.
Peter Howell, secretary of the Victorian Group of Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society, said a plan that proposed demolition of the Register Office was unacceptable.
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