South East Wales

National planetarium hope for Maerdy, Rhondda valley

Dark Sky Image copyright Allan Trow/Dark Sky Wales
Image caption Looking back towards Maerdy mountain - the aim is to build on Dark Sky tourism in the nearby Brecon Beacons

A national planetarium for Wales could be built in the Rhondda valley, under plans being drawn up for an education and tourism attraction.

Although at an early stage, those behind the Dark Skies project hope to create 64 jobs near Maerdy by 2019.

The planetarium, one of Europe's biggest, would be built on old colliery land at Castell Nos along the pit road.

Rhondda Cynon Taf councillor, Keiron Montague, said it would be of "national significance".

As well as a 350-seat auditorium, there would be an education centre, with simulators of the Mars rover, and a cafe.

There would also be a small observatory for sky gazers, taking advantage of the relative lack of light pollution.

The planetarium would be three times the size of the UK's largest in Greenwich, London, and have the latest 3D and digital technology with shows in 8K resolution, developed by specialists in the United States.

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Media captionAllan Trow, manager with Dark Sky Wales, showed Nick Palit the proposed site
Image copyright Dark Sky Wales
Image caption Dark Sky Wales already has a mobile planetarium
Image copyright Allan Trow/Dark Skies Wales
Image caption Looking at the Milky Way

Allan Trow, manager with Dark Sky Wales, said a feasibility study will firm up the plans, which hopes to attract 400,000 visitors a year.

"It will be an experience similar to an IMAX, stadium seating at a 30 degree angle, and shows will take you through the asteroid belt, the rings of Saturn, the belt of Jupiter - it will be totally immersive," he said.

The multi-million pound development, which involves a mix of private and public funding, also aims to create apprenticeships.

Mr Trow added: "We want the whole village, the businesses and the shops to benefit from it, from the people coming into the area."

The details emerged 25 years after the closure of Mardy Colliery, the last pit in the Rhondda.

Mr Montague, deputy leader at Rhondda Cynon Taf Council, said: "This is an aspiration project, however the use of the former colliery site for leisure and tourism activities has always been something that local residents have recognised as a potential opportunity."

He also said it would bring jobs, growth and "make good use of our fantastic natural environment".

Heather Nicholas, head teacher of Ferndale Community School, welcomed the idea.

"It would be fantastic and it's forward thinking rather than harking back," she said.

"There's so much to offer here. This would be something unique, specific to this area and utilise what it has to offer, not just something shoe-horned in."

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