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First Light – new heritage centre for Jodrell Bank observatory

jodrell bank first light pavilion and visitors centre astronomy manchester STEM

A £20.5 million exhibition and visitor centre for Jodrell Bank observatory in Cheshire has been given the go ahead.

Cheshire East Council’s strategic planning board has just given the green light to a full planning application by the University of Manchester. A new visitor attraction will now be built on the Granada Arboretum at Jodrell Bank. The historic observatory is part of the university.

The First Light Project will be housed in an unusual earth dome-shaped facility. It will explore the story of how the quiet Cheshire site became the home of radio astronomy.

The new build will offer increased exhibition and education space, an auditorium, offices, toilets and an outdoor café. Designs show it to be 79 metres wide at the base and eight metres high. Visitors will be able to climb to the top and walk along roof-top paths to the peak. Here they will encounter a platform featuring a sundial.

The building aims to complement Jodrell Bank’s current visitor facilities. The observatory currently brings in around 150,000 visitors per year.

International architects HASSELL released a design and access statement saying that “Much of the current exhibition and interpretation material throughout the site is focused on radio astronomy and the science around it, with little emphasis on the inspiring story of how a rural site south of Manchester became known as its home”.

First Light has received around £12m funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. A further £4m was committed from the 2017 Autumn Budget.

The council’s strategic planning board has also passed an additional full planning application to increase parking and upgrade existing visitor facilities. Parking will be boosted from 174 to 275 permanent spaces. There will be an additional 50 temporary spaces. A new entrance and ticket booth will be erected adjacent to the present Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre.

“We are delighted to hear that our projects have received planning approvals,” said Professor Teresa Anderson, director of the Discovery Centre at Jodrell Bank. “It’s another positive step towards the fantastic First Light project. We’re really looking forward to it.”

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