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Plan submitted for ultramodern £6.5m replacement for Derbyshire tourist attraction

Plans for a new £6.5 million home for the world-famous National Stone Centre have been submitted as a joint venture between the centre and the Institute of Quarrying. The current building near Wirksworth was opened in 1990 to inspire people to engage with the origin, industry and the history of stone and is set within six former limestone quarries on a 40-acre Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

But following a year of consultation, it has been agreed that a new building will revitalise the centre, whose exhibition space in the existing building is inadequate as are the educational facilities. Rebuilding will enable the centre “to make a meaningful economic contribution and a quality destination, an asset fit-for-purpose”, according to the Institute of Quarrying.

James Thorne, Institute of Quarrying chief executive, said: “In 2021 the value of tourism to the Peak District and Derbyshire’s economy was estimated at £1.96 billion. A reimagined and reinvigorated National Stone Centre will bring new visitors, as well as providing a focal point for engaging the public, schools and colleges in the science, history, present and future of the quarrying and mineral products industry.

“We firmly believe that our plans represent an exciting moment in the history of the National Stone Centre, delivering a unique building that is both fit for purpose and inspiring for generations to come. It’s the home that such a significant collection deserves, as well as proudly representing what is now the largest manufacturing sector in the UK.”

The proposed new National Stone Centre will embody strong references and links to the area’s geology and industrial heritage, including the overhanging rock formations found in local gritstone outcrops, such as Black Rocks and Stanage Edge.

The plans have been developed in partnership with Wirksworth-based building design and consultancy practice Babenko Associates. Phase one of the project includes proposals for a 100 seater café/restaurant, four classrooms with a combined capacity of 120 learners, 700 square metres of museum/exhibition space, a souvenir shop, children’s playground and a 1,200 square metre open-air circular piazza for community events.

Jo Dilley, managing director of Marketing Peak District & Derbyshire said: “We’re proud to support the Institute of Quarrying’s exciting plans for the National Stone Centre near Wirksworth. These plans signal a positive step towards their goal of creating an extraordinary new centre of excellence that will not only attract visitors from across the UK but will also support local jobs and provide unique educational opportunities that will benefit both visitors and residents alike.

It is envisaged that the building will merge with the hillside
It is envisaged that the building will merge with the hillside

“The National Stone Centre is a great public asset that will help deliver these goals and more – and securing its future is so important.”

The centre is an educational charity and is operated by a group of volunteer trustees and its vision is to create a destination that the quarrying and minerals products industry can use to engage its employees and other stakeholders vital to the future of the sector.

If planning permission is obtained, the intention is to start the 18-month building work in autumn 2023. The existing building will be dismantled and the materials salvaged to use in additional buildings at a later date. The current buildings will remain untouched and open to the public during the building of the new centre.