Straw bale visitor centre has been worth the wait says council leader

He concedes it has been a ‘long, slow process’ but Hastings Borough Council (HBC) leader Peter Chowney says he is pleased the council stuck with its plans to build the new Hastings Country Park visitor centre out of straw.

The project that will have cost in excess of £700,000 when it is complete will be, “…a showcase for straw bale construction,” according to Mr Chowney.

It has been two years since HBC was awarded a European Union ‘UPSTRAW’ grant to help with the cost of building the new visitor centre, Mr Chowney says: “Constructing a building of that size is unusual, and it wasn’t at first possible to find a building contractor who had the knowledge and experience to do straw bale construction, and who was big enough to take on the contract.

The site where the visitor centre will eventually sit. Building costs will be equivalent to £3,400 per square metre.

“Eventually, after research into the world of straw bale construction, a consortium of ‘artisan’ straw bale builders was formed to bid for the contract.”

That consortium is headed by SIA Design and Build and the specialist straw bale companies are called Green and Castle, Red Kite and Huff and Puff Construction.

The straw bales for the project were bought by the council in 2015 and have been in storage while work went on to find a builder. It is now expected that work will begin on site later this month – some of the timber frame pieces have already been made off-site.

Mr Chowney says: “We will be developing on-site information prior to contractors starting work, to keep the public informed as the project progresses.

“When it’s completed, the visitor centre will be run and maintained by Groundworks Trust, an environmental charity who are already working with the council on a number of projects in the Country Park. The building will be close to carbon-neutral, thanks to the high thermal efficiency of the straw bale construction, and it’s intended to install solar panels on it to generate its own electricity. It will even have its own mini-treatment plant for effluent, which means it doesn’t have to be connected to the sewerage system.”

Construction is likely to take several months, Mr Chowney says: “When finished, we’ll have a brand new visitor centre for the Country Park that will also be a showcase for straw bale construction. It’s been a long and slow process to get it started, and at times it looked like it might not be possible, but I’m glad we stuck with it.”

6 thoughts on “Straw bale visitor centre has been worth the wait says council leader

  1. There is confusion about whether the building will be connected to the sewage system. Cllr Chowney says it won’t be connected but the latest application states that it will be connected. There has been no application for solar panels on the roof yet – these will need to assessed for their impact on the AONB.

    Project costs have doubled and the cost per square metre is double that of a conventional building. The standard conventional building cost for a single storey building of this size is about £1k per sqm in the South East and the build cost to HBC for the Visitor Centre is about £2k per sqm.

    HBC claim that higher costs and delays are caused by the lack of available expertise in straw building. However there are commercial straw buildings out there that have not suffered these problems. The Sworder and Sons auction building is an example of an award winning straw bale building that was built for roughly the same cost per square metre as traditional buildings..

    Straw Works who were involved in the HBC project were involved in the Sworder’s project. A Sworder’s spokeman said “”The cost of the auction room to build was very similar to a standard building, but with the cost of oil at more than $100 a barrel it is a lot cheaper to run,” . Why are the visitor centre building costs over 2 times higher than a traditional build building?

  2. I think this has evolved into one big “Ego Trip” for certain people running this borough. The time scale to find a constructor and build it is beyond common sense. What ultimately will it achieve? Just an accolade I guess to say how this is a Visitors Centre made of straw and how revolutionary it is.
    I really do have difficulty in comprehending how this can be worth the wait to build. And it would appear obvious the purpose of this building was not exactly important or a priority. For the past six plus years it has been a vacant site that has not affected the visitor numbers to the area.

    If this was private enterprise the business owning it would have gone to the wall by now. But it is a council and they don’t have to think and act like a business, especially when they are handed gifts of money

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