A visitor centre was established at Flag Fen in 2002. Courtesy Toby Fox.
Peterborough City Council is to hold two public meetings about plans to build a renewable energy plant near the famous Flag Fen Bronze Age site.
Local residents and businesses will get the opportunity to question the company behind the £250 million, 29-acre waste processing energy park proposed for the site at Fengate in Cambridgeshire.
The two-hour meetings will be held on July 13 at Peterborough Central Library and on July 25 at Peterborough Town Hall Council Chamber.
As previously reported on the 24 Hour Museum, the development has caused concern among residents, as well as staff at Flag Fen who fear it will affect the 20,000 visitors the site receives each year and archaeological remains still in the ground.
But Peterborough Renewable Energy Ltd, the company behind it, maintains that the development will be able to work with Flag Fen. In a statement, Managing Director Chris Williams told the 24 Hour Museum: "There are opportunities for the centre to benefit, through exposure and good working relationships."
A view of how the proposed plant may look from Flag Fen. Courtesy PREL.
The developers estimate that the plant could handle more than a million tonnes of waste each year. Innovative technology will then be used to generate electricity by burning the waste along with biomass (organic matter such as plants) at very high temperatures in an oxygen deficient environment.
Rather than be put off by the plant Chris Williams believes that, with its own visitor centre, the energy park could help Flag Fen attract more visitors.
"The estimates for the plant’s own sustainability centre expect 30,000 visitors per year," he said, adding that a shared infrastructure could be developed with the Bronze Age site. "The opportunity for a truly fantastic visitor attraction with archaeology and sustainable living methods at it’s core is a unique selling point and should see numbers rise at Flag Fen."
According to Williams, the company would look to minimise the impact on archaeology during the construction phase by supporting a full pre-construction dig of the site.
He also acknowledges that archaeology surrounding the construction site could potentially be affected by drying out, but said the company intends to look for solutions, such as water monitoring and a re-wetting programme.
How the proposed plant may look. Courtesy PREL.
"In no way do we wish to work against Flag Fen," he added, "however, waste and climate change are very real, very important issues that if not tackled early – and some argue it’s already too late – the soil conditions, water tables and weather cycle we see today will continue to change."
According to Dr Mike Heyworth, director of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), Flag Fen is "one of our premier prehistoric visitor attractions. One of the few places where people can see an incredible survival of archaeological material."
It was discovered in 1982 by renowned archaeologist and author Dr Francis Pryor. Now president of the CBA and a member of TV’s Time Team, Dr Pryor unearthed a small piece of timber, which turned out to form part of a massive Bronze Age causeway. It continues to yield material today and there is more waiting to be excavated.
Dr Pryor is currently director of archaeology at Flag Fen and told the 24 Hour Museum that he remains very concerned about the development, describing it as "potentially catastrophic."
As well as worries about the construction phase, he raised the issue of unexcavated remains, preserved in the waterlogged peat. It is this wetness, he said, that has and continues to preserve remains in the ground so uniquely and if it dries out the archaeology will be destroyed.
Bronze Age timbers, preserved by the fen soil, in situ. Courtesy Toby Fox.
He also highlighted the impact on visitors, which he said is perhaps the most immediate problem. "We are a tourist attraction," he explained, "we opened in 1987 and it’s a struggle to keep going. Peterborough is not a tourist area despite having a magnificent cathedral and we are slowly building up a visitor profile, but everything depends on the atmosphere."
The fear is that where visitors currently enjoy a peaceful and evocative experience at the site, the proposed plant might change that.
But that said, Dr Pryor recognises the importance of renewable energy: "Anyone living in the fens has to be in favour of any electricity generation which doesn’t contribute to global warming and I’m wholly in favour, in principle. But," he added, the location of the plant "seems to me really very insensitive."
While he considers the possibility of a visitor centre at the plant to be a good idea, he added: "It isn’t going to make up for the impact of the development."
Responsibility for approving or disapproving the planning application lies with the Department for Trade and Industry. The city council has until September to compile a report and make comments for consideration.