The plans for a new Avalon Marshes Centre, to replace the existing facilities on the land adjoining the former Peat Moors Centre off Shapwick Road, Westhay, near Glastonbury, have recently been approved by Mendip District Council. Now the focus turns to raising the funding to enable the vision to become a reality.
The planning application clearly benefited from the extensive consultation process undertaken last year. This helped to ensure that the proposals had broad support and that any issues, such as its location within the flood plain, were addressed before the planning application was submitted.
The new main building, which brings together many of the functions currently spread across the site, is the focus of the design. It will be modern, sit comfortably within the landscape and be highly energy-efficient, making the most of natural light and ventilation. On the ground floor it will include space for a café, craft gallery, shop, exhibitions, information, community and education use, and toilets. Offices for the partner organisations will be located on the first floor. In addition to the new main building, the proposals will see the removal of many of the dilapidated buildings currently on the site and their replacement with attractively landscaped areas housing a number of historic reconstructions, a picnic area and pond, a space for outdoor events and education, and an improved car park.
The new centre will provide much improved facilities for conservation staff and volunteers who use the site as a base for managing the nearby nature reserves and for educational activities. It will also provide a facility for local people and visitors from further afield, including those coming to enjoy the centre itself or the surrounding Avalon Marshes area which is recognised internationally for its wildlife and archaeology. Finally, and just as importantly, it is intended to provide a boost to the local economy, demonstrating the broader benefits that the area’s attractive environment can bring.
The project has been developed by a partnership of Natural England, Somerset County Council, Somerset Wildlife Trust, the RSPB and the Hawk and Owl Trust, all of whom manage land or reserves in the area. The consultation stage of the design process, with its focus on community engagement, was largely funded by a grant from the Local Action for Rural Communities fund in the Somerset Levels and Moors, managed by Somerset County Council. The more detailed stage has been largely funded by Natural England, who is the applicant for the planning application, with Somerset Wildlife Trust acting as their agents. Funding is now being sought from a variety of sources, including grants and sponsorship, to ensure that the new Centre can be built for the benefit of all.