Tourism boost part of gas firm's ambitious project

A NEW £1.5 million visitor centre and geology museum could be coming to Portland as part of a multi-million-pound gas project.

Portland Gas Storage Limited is proposing to create a major natural gas storage facility beneath the north east corner of the island.

Now the firm has revealed further plans to convert a neglected former engine shed into a new educational centre - giving Portland a welcome tourism boost.

Portland Gas sent six planning applications to Dorset County Council for the original £350million initiative back in March. Bosses want to store 1,000 million cubic metres of natural gas in 14 underground caverns some 2,400 metres below land at the former HMS Osprey naval base.

The firm is submitting a fresh planning application to the county council today for the conversion of the old engine shed into a new visitor centre.

The Grade II listed building sits at the top of Incline Road in a spectacular setting on cliffs above the East Weares.

Portland Gas wants to create a classroom equipped with the latest audio visual equipment for hire by education groups. There are also plans for an exhibition space on the geology of Portland and a café with outside seating overlooking Weymouth Bay.

Portland Gas managing director Andrew Hindle said: "We hope The Old Engine Shed will give Portland a valuable new attraction which will be used by the local community as well as visitors. The centre would link into, and support, other tourism initiatives in the area including the Chesil Beach Centre and Portland Sculpture and Quarry Trust."

Portland Gas intends to form a trust with local people as trustees and a salaried manager in charge of day-to-day issues if the scheme gets the green light. The firm would guarantee cash is available to fund the conversion and would ensure the visitor centre is economically viable for the early years.

Among those supporting the scheme are the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site team and the Portland Community Partnership.

Portland historian Stuart Morris said: "This building is of historical significance. It is listed but is in danger of being damaged beyond repair through lack of use, neglect and vandalism. Refurbishment and conversion in this scheme would be the best way of securing its future."

County planners will consider the proposal alongside Portland Gas's plans to build the gas storage facility on the island.

Work could start on the visitor centre as early as next spring if planning permission and listed building consent is granted.