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Monday, 22 December 2014

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The £16m cost of Sellafield visitor centre – and today it stands idle

OVER the years some £16 million of taxpayers’ money has been lavished on a Sellafield centre built to woo people to the nuclear site – and now it stands empty.

As part of site cost-cutting – and to save money for the British taxpayer – the former Sellafield Visitors’ Centre was closed months ago.

Pressed by The Whitehaven News to reveal building and refurbishment costs, Sellafield Ltd disclosed that £5 million was spent in 1988; another £5 million in 1994/95; and £6 million more for a second revamp in 2001/2002.

Intense security to combat the threat of terrorism in the wake of 9/11 proved the beginning of the end for the centre as a visitors’ attraction because the public was no longer allowed on the site to combine Sellafield Sightseer bus tours with a trip to the off-site facility.

The Duke of Edinburgh opened a new centre in 1988 as Sellafield found itself in the spotlight from incidents and the industry under pressure post-Chernobyl.

An expensive TV advertising campaign used the slogan “Please come and see for yourself – but don’t all come at once.”

In recent times a move to convert the site from a visitor centre to a business/conference facility failed. But its continued closure has been criticised by the chairman of the West Cumbria Stakeholders Group, the community’s independent Sellafield watchdogs.

“It’s a crying shame,” said Coun David Moore, “and a loss to the community.”

In calling for it to be re-opened, he said: “This is a valuable resource which sadly has been left idle.

“It is still the ideal place to promote nuclear at a critical time for the industry with a new power station on the cards and also as a tourist destination bringing people into West Cumbria. It must present opportunities for the private sector to get involved to showcase for the public what can happen in nuclear new build and a vision for the future.

“Since its heyday the centre may have been losing money but it has been immeasurable in what it has done for Sellafield and nuclear - it could do the same again.”

Sellafield Ltd and the NDA (who own the centre) say they are working closely together to find a suitable and viable use with discussions on-going with potential users.

Its closure represented “a substantial saving to the taxpayer”.

A statement said: “As a result of falling visitor attendance figures in its later years, the centre changed focus from a visitor attraction to a business and conference facility primarily for Sellafield Ltd use.

“When NMP arrived at Sellafield one of its socio-economic proposals was to redevelop the centre as a tourist attraction as part of its financial contribution through Britain’s Energy Coast. In the event of North West Development Agency funding being withdrawn from BEC the decision was taken to use this funding for higher priority BEC projects and the centre remained operating as a Sellafield Ltd meeting/conferfence facility.

“At the time of its eventual closure in 2011 the centre was no longer functioning primarily as a tourist attraction.

“It attracted over two and a half million visitors since opening in 1988 and therefore brought economic benefit to the local area. However by the late 2000s, when it was no longer serving this purpose, the decision to close the facility represented a substantial saving to the taxpayer.

“Costs associated with salaries, security, cleaning and maintenance by that stage totalled just over £620,000 a year and there were further one-off costs associated with specific packages of work between 2006 and 2011 which amounted to just over £98,000.”

Some distinguished visitors have popped into the centre over the years from princes to prime ministers.

Have your say

Common sense says there should be a visitor centre for Sellafield. Common sense should also be saying that it should be as close to Sellafield as visitors are allowed to get, which isn't in Whitehaven. Why don't people have any common sense these days???

Posted by David Scameron on 18 May 2013 at 19:52

I know 18 million seems a lot however consider when it was open during summer the visitors centre was getting over 1000 visitors a day !! Hundreds of thousands of people will have passed through the doors of the visitors centre improving there understanding of the nuclear industry and educating those uneducated anti-nuclear groups.

The value of the visitors centre over the generations to the community has been massive and admittedly it is a shame it is now closed however the value to the community has been been worth much more than 18 million.

I think the way that the editors at the Whitehaven News spin articles so that they are negative. Over recent weeks it has become apparent that following the MRWS decision there has been a negative article in the paper each week. Similarly the editors do the same with Copeland BC and Cumbria CC. The local new should be an unbiased media not designed to encourage anti nuclear groups but to inform and provide members of the public with the information to make there own informed decision. Disappointing

Posted by M on 18 May 2013 at 10:50

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