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21st Mar 2024

Natural History Museum secures planning permission for new collections, research and digitisation centre

The Natural History Museum (NHM) has secured planning permission from Wokingham Borough Council to build a new collections, research and digitisation centre at Thames Valley Science Park in Reading, subject to completion of a Section 106.

View across natural pond towards main entrance Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios architects courtesy of NHM

To mark the occasion, for the first time, the Museum has released CGI flythrough footage of what the facility is expected to look like. Beginning with a bird’s eye view at the centre’s pondside entrance, this perspective places the site, nestled in woodland, into context from above. Viewers are then taken on a journey through the centre, starting with the reception lobby and multifunctional space where lectures and other events will be held. The tour continues into the staff areas, including work areas, the spine to access collection spaces and a glimpse into the high-tech laboratories where Museum and visiting scientists will seek solutions to some of the biggest problems facing our planet.

Landscape architecture practice Grant Associates is developing the landscape strategy for NHM, in close collaborative partnership with architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FBCStudios). An integral part of the vision for NHM, the strategy creates a sense of place which connects people and nature as well as promoting a healthy and curious working community. The site organisation creates a clear hierarchy of public and private space, so that the site is connected, accessible and a fully integrated part of the Thames Valley campus and wider community.

“The overriding aim of the external environment at NHM is to make people feel good about the place in which they work and to help inspire wonder and curiosity in the natural world, where the landscape spaces support opportunities for people and nature. The overall approach will establish a site master plan which responds positively to the sensitive landscape context, the ancient woodland and local natural and cultural heritage.”
Keith French, Director at Grant Associates

Biodiversity measures included throughout NHM’s landscape areas include using native wildlife attracting plants; planting species rich native hedging; creating green ‘wildlife’ corridors around and across the site; planted drainage features; planting of bee friendly and pollination borders; and planting large legacy native broadleaved trees. Almost 200 new trees are proposed to be planted across the site, many as semi-mature specimens, ensuring that there will be a significant net gain in trees across the proposed development.

Main entrance with library and archives collection above seen from main approach road Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios architects courtesy of Natural History Museum

As a result of the Planning Committee’s positive decision, the Museum will begin to construct its new collections, science and digitisation centre in early 2025. Situated in Shinfield at Thames Valley Science Park, the innovation campus of the University of Reading, the building is expected to be finished in 2027. By 2031, the centre will be operational, equipped with cutting-edge laboratories, workspace for Museum scientists and purpose-built storage for 28 million specimens – around a third of the Museum’s collection. Transporting these specimens to Shinfield will be the largest move of natural history specimens globally. The project is generously enabled through a substantial £201m investment from the UK Government as part of its priority to increase investment in science, research and development.

“We are thrilled that Wokingham Borough Council have granted planning permission for our new facility in Reading. This new site will enable us to secure irreplaceable collections in a purpose-built storage facility, provide new scientific infrastructure to accelerate research and digitisation, and act as a base for new collaborations and partnerships.”
Tim Littlewood, Executive Director of Science at the Museum

The Museum’s new facility will improve collections access – physically and digitally – to the scientific community. Digitisation of the collection will be accelerated, with new techniques and technologies applied to collections-based research. Increased accessibility will enhance solutions-led research spanning: climate change, biodiversity loss, health and sustainable resourcing, ultimately strengthening the UK’s position in finding solutions to the planetary emergency.

The Museum’s science is outward-facing, responsive and driven by collaboration. We are working in partnership with the University of Reading to drive forward scientific innovation and translate research into action against the planetary emergency. Our new facility will also bring benefits to the local community directly through engagement activities, which have the potential to connect the public with the research, develop skills and learn about the natural world.

As advocates for the planet, sustainability is integral to the Museum's operations. The centre at Thames Valley Science Park will be constructed with the lowest possible environmental impact, using responsibly sourced materials and services. The Museum is committed to achieving a net-zero carbon building in both construction and operation.