Leeds planetarium - a meteoric failure

A tourist attraction rescued by a £1.2m bail-out from the taxpayer just two years ago has closed.

The Yorkshire Planetarium opened at Harewood House – the 18th century stately home of the Queen's cousin, the Earl of Harewood – in the summer of 2007. But just a few months later it ran into trouble because of a lack of visitors.

Yorkshire Forward – a public funded Regional Development Agency – handed it 1.2m. Now it has closed and is being replaced by a 100,000 children's play area in April.

Between February and October last year 28,360 people visited the planetarium, at a cost of 330,000. That works out at 11 per person.

Space Connections, an educational concern which promotes science and technology in schools, took the planetarium facility over with the help

of grant funding from Yorkshire Forward after the planetarium ran into trouble months after opening in 2007.

But the Bradford-based company says it was unable to make it viable at Harewood despite the Yorkshire Forward handout of 10,000 a week. The equipment has now been moved.

Marketing manager Alam Zeb said a feasibility study had shown that the 18th-century stately home and its 100 acres of grounds was not a "suitable place" for the attraction.

The Yorkshire Planetarium, which opened in summer 2007 amid much publicity, was housed in three "geo-desic" domes.

The Star Chamber allowed visitors to explore the night sky with an introduction to its constellations and planets; the Hubble Space Dome brought images directly from the Hubble telescope and The Rocket provided the fun of an eight- metre climbing frame for all ages.

But now its Zeiss projectors, big screen, fixtures and fittings have all currently been mothballed - and the domes turned into a children's activity zone following a 100,000 facelift.

While they look for a permanent location, Space Connections will continue to present planetrarium shows at Harewood on a big screen.

Richard Mansell, Chief Executive, Harewood House Trust, said: " We are unable to comment on the feasibility study commissioned by Space Connections since we were not involved.

"However, we look forward to a continuing partnership with Space Connections and can confirm that this involve some aspects of the planetarium show."

Space Connections, who organise science-based activities across Yorkshire, are taking the planetarium show on the road over the spring and summer.

Alam Zeb said: "While the economic climate is bad we still want children to be able to access the information."

A Yorkshire Forward spokesman said they agreed take on the running of the planetarium in March 2008 to ensure that it remained in the region.

He said: "We are in the process of finding a new permanent location for the Yorkshire Planetarium and have shortlisted three potential sites so that it can continue to inspire the region's youngsters to reach for the stars."

* Click here for latest YEP news.

* Click here for latest Wakefield news.