PLANS for a new coastal conservation centre near the iconic Souter Lighthouse have been approved.

The National Trust secured consent for the new development beside the Grade II listed lighthouse at South Tyneside – the world’s first to be designed and built to use electricity.

The conservation hub will be based at the Whitburn Coastal Park, near the lighthouse car park.

The Northern Echo:

It will provide a base for coastal wildlife groups and opportunities for visitors to “explore, discover and record the natural heritage of the coast.”

Features will include an interactive coastal activity zone, bird observation area, multi-use learning space and an accessible public toilet/ changing room for users of the coastal park.

It will also allow the expansion of outdoor events and activities at the Souter Lighthouse and The Leas – with ranger and volunteer events ranging from rock pooling and nature walks to running groups.

The Northern Echo:

South Tyneside Council’s planning authority approved plans for the ‘Whitburn Coastal Conservation Centre’ on Wednesday, June 17.

Although the building is planned in a sensitive area, Council planners said the scheme met the ‘very special circumstances’ needed to override any harm to the Green Belt.

Reasons provided by the applicant included the cultural and social benefits of the new centre, eco-friendly design features, boosting the local tourism industry and the inability to incorporate the facility at the Souter Lighthouse due to space constraints.

Project bosses hope to use the building’s cladding as a learning resource to explore issues around ocean pollution and single use plastics.

Designs from Newcastle-based MawsonKerr Architects include eco-friendly features from thermally efficient glazing to tiles created from 80 per cent recycled plastics.

When the works are completed, the building will be owned and managed by the National Trust while also playing a key part in delivering the aims of the Seascape Partnership.

The scheme, supported by the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund, unites dozens of organisations including the National Trust, South Tyneside Council, Durham Heritage Coast and Natural England.

The project aims to connect people with the coast between the Tyne and Tees rivers through dozens of projects with a focus on heritage, wildlife and improvements to access.

A council decision report goes on to say: “Application details state that the proposed coastal conservation centre would create a local gateway to

the coast, which would showcase the area’s cultural and natural heritage.

“It would have a strong focus on marine life, and seek to facilitate wildlife conservation, community engagement with the coast, and support learning activities about the significance of this coastal location.”

Key activities will also include bird ringing, a scientific method of gathering data on bird populations.

Under planning conditions work must be brought forward within the next three years.

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