South Downs National Park unveils its ‘super green’ centre

THE controversial £3.9m headquarters of the South Downs National Park Authority is setting new standards for environmental efficiency.

The refurbishment of the northern half of Capron House in Midhurst, to be called the South Downs Centre, is now complete and 60 national park staff are set to move in next week.

Hidden photo voltaic cells on the roof

Hidden photo voltaic cells on the roof

The reception area will be manned from May 9, but an official opening will take place later this summer, on July 27.

There was outrage last year when it emerged the cost of the building project had rocketed from £1.5m to nearly £3m.

And less than two months later, chief executive Trevor Beattie admitted the cost had escalated yet again, as predicted by auditors, to almost £4m.

This week Mr Beattie 
said the project had come in at that £3.9m budget and 
on time.

Much of the spiralling cost was the result of a decision, late in the day, by the South Downs National Park Authority members to go for the highest ‘BREEAM’ standards of sustainability in commercial development.

“We already have BREEAM status at the design stage,” said Mr Beattie and added that if given final approval, ‘it will have an almost unprecedented status for a listed building’.

Among the ‘green’ additions which have put the building at the top of the environmental efficiency class are a biomass boiler under the memorial hall and hidden photo-voltaic cells on the roof. Screens in the reception area will give a live feed of the energy usage of the building.

Mr Beattie said other aspects of the design which helped gain BREEAM status were special facilities for cyclists including showers, changing rooms and indoor cycle storage.

Special insulation and cladding on the outer walls of the 1950s former classrooms and extensive recycling of materials were also a factor.

The memorial hall has been given a major facelift and now includes a fully-equipped kitchen, meeting rooms and refurbished stage as well as the main hall.

“It is much more than just big, well-equipped meeting rooms,” said Mr Beattie. “It is a suite of facilities which make up a ‘green’ conference centre.”

The facilities will be available to non-profit-making community groups free of change as well as for full authority and committee meetings.

Mr Beattie wants to hire out the hall to commercial groups as a source of revenue, ‘but it will take time to built that up’.

The centre includes an ‘interpretation’ area to explain the national park landscapes, a ‘hub’ for use by community groups and a state-of-the-art informal working common room.