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.
“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.”