Site of NIRAH aquarium plan at Quest Pit Stewartby sold

MBTC Nirah
MBTC Nirah

Plans to build a giant £600million aquarium in a former quarry at Stewartby have been scrapped – with nearly £4million of taxpayers’ money down the drain.

The sum was invested in the National Institute for Research into Aquatic Habitats project (NIRAH) - a site intended to be bigger than the Eden Project in Cornwall.

Visitors would have enjoyed a tropical dome, research centre, gardens, spa, diving centre and water park at the old 140-acre quarry site known as Quest Pit at the old brickworks in Stewartby.

But the scheme, which was launched in 2004, failed when the necessary private investment funding couldn’t be raised - and planning permission ran out in September last year. The scheme had been granted planning permission in 2007 which expired in 2012.

Bedfordshire County Council loaned £1.6 million and the government’s East of England Development Agency sunk a further £2 million into it.

Both agencies disbanded so the debt was owed to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The site has now been sold for an undisclosed amount.

A government spokeswoman said: “It is disappointing that the vision to bring the NIRAH project to Bedfordshire did not become a reality, but the Government and local partners have been driving forward other investments in the area through the Growth Deal to create jobs and boost growth.”

The aquarium, which was originally expected to cost £375m, was mooted as a scientific research centre and visitor attraction four times the size of the Eden Project.

Nirah was the brainchild of a group of scientists who wanted to create a tourist attraction to fund research into the conservation of threatened species. The aquarium was to have been housed in two massive biomes designed by architects Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners and modelled on those created by the firm for the Eden Project.

The aquarium would have been stocked with tropical trees and plants as well as thousands of freshwater fish, amphibians and reptiles, and provided habitats for endangered aquatic species and facilities to create drugs from animal toxins, venoms and secretions.

The 145-acre site has been sold to property insolvency specialists Moorfields Corporate Recovery Ltd.

Quest Pit was opened in 1983 and was the last active pit in Bedfordshire extracting Oxford clay, before ceasing operations in 2008.

Simon Thomas, joint administrator,said: ‘We are delighted to have concluded the sale of this site.”