Published on

22 February 2024

Bright outlook as global weather centre stays local

Plans for a major weather and climate study centre to move to a new site within the borough have been approved

A computer generated aerial image of a new four storey building surrounded by woodland, with a small car park

One of the world's biggest weather prediction and climate change monitoring organisations will be staying in Wokingham Borough after its relocation plans were approved.

The council has agreed proposals for the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) to move from Shinfield Park to a new purpose-built headquarters on the University of Reading's Whiteknights Campus.

This will keep about 300 jobs within the borough, worth about £16.7 million per year to the economy, as well as supporting about 455 additional roles through the centre’s suppliers.

The centre was established by the UK and other founding members with just over 155 staff in 1975. However, it needs a new base as this has roughly doubled, with staff coming from over 30 countries.

Discussions about the move, which the Government will fund through the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, have been ongoing for more than a decade as the current headquarters has become increasingly outdated.

The decision to stay in the UK was agreed in 2021, following negotiations between the Government and the ECMWF's 23 member states, and the centre has been working closely with the council to secure planning permission since 2019.

Computer generated image from ground level of a modern four storey block surrounded by flags from around the world

Protecting our planet around the clock

The ECMWF works 24/7 to produce global weather predictions and other data for its members and across the world, and is home to one of the world's largest supercomputers and weather data archives.

It is also a key player in the European Union’s space programme, offering trusted information on climate change, atmospheric composition, flooding and fire danger, and is currently working to create an accurate digital model of the Earth to help make even better predictions.

The centre’s new headquarters (PDF document, 12.7MB) will replace vacant buildings with well-designed, high quality offices including a courtyard. Its design will be highly sustainable, producing net zero carbon emissions and rating "excellent" against the international BREEAM standard.

In keeping with the organisation’s focus on the environment, the scheme will promote public transport as it is well served by buses.

It will also have 26 electric vehicle chargepoints, plus 90 bicycle parking spaces including 10 for visitors, and will increase biodiversity on the site by 10 per cent by creating more habitats for wildlife.

Computer generated image of a green, well-planted courtyard area in front of a smart, sleek modern commercial building

A shared vision for our future

Cllr Lindsay Ferris, executive member for planning and local plan, said: "Tackling climate change is at the heart of everything we do and is enshrined in our climate emergency action plan, which sets out a bold aspiration to do all we can to reach carbon neutrality.

"We're therefore incredibly proud that such a major player in this important global fight has chosen to stay in our borough - and equally proud to have supported them in this endeavour, which will be of significant benefit to our economy.

"With the British Museum and Natural History Museum both working towards a move to the nearby Thames Valley Science Park, Wokingham Borough is emerging as a strong centre for the sciences and education in general.

"It's pleasing that the centre's long search for a more suitable home has reached such a major milestone and we will continue to work constructively with them as they take the next steps."

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