Morecambe pins hope on Sunak to give £70m for Eden Project North

Helen Pidd North of England editor
·3-min read

When Rishi Sunak stands up to deliver the budget on Wednesday, the chancellor’s speech will be watched with particular interest in one northern English seaside town.

For several years, plans have been under way to build Eden Project North on Morecambe’s somewhat doleful seafront, a sister to the eco-friendly original in Cornwall, which has brought in more than £2bn to its local economy.

Construction could start later this year – if Sunak is feeling generous enough to chip in £70m of the £125m set-up costs.

The Eden Project team, along with businesses, schools and politicians of all parties in the local area, sent a letter to the chancellor before the budget arguing that Eden Project North is a “once in a generation opportunity” to reverse Morecambe’s deprivation, poor health and low educational attainment.

Last week, the local Conservative MP, David Morris, secured a parliamentary debate dedicated to the scheme, telling ministers: “If Morecambe is not part of [the government’s] levelling-up agenda, there will be very little faith among the public.”

Giving it the green light would “signal very strongly that the government mean business, because this is a shovel-ready project, ready to be implemented and open by 2024,” he added.

Luke Hall, a junior minister, seemed sympathetic, saying that while he could not pre-empt the budget, “this project has the potential to give a real boost to the world-class tourist industry across the lakes and the dales, thanks to its infrastructure and location”.

While Sunak works out how to pay for the pandemic and simultaneously demonstrate tangible commitments to “left behind” towns such as Morecambe, Eden Project architects are busy designing their Lancastrian outpost, which is based around five biodomes shaped like mussels.

The original idea was to build on Morecambe’s motto during its tourism heyday: “Beauty surrounds and health abounds.” The project has since evolved to focus on “today’s possibilities and challenges”, said Dave Harland, Eden’s chief executive.

Inspired by Morecambe Bay – its powerful tides, its sublime sunsets and everything that lurks beneath the surface – Eden Project North aims to take visitors through “four seasons in one day”, said Harland. “They might arrive in the morning to a blooming hyperreal forest, only for it to then snow before lunch.”

One of the five mussel shells will be blacked out, allowing visitors to dip their toes in a giant rock pool as a moon rises overhead. Another, with the working title of the “green eternal spring”, will feature orange pods hanging from trees, where people can relax up high. There will also be a bar, where people can sip cocktails while watching the sun set out to sea.

“We’re trying to combine absolutely world-class, brilliant horticulture, art, performance, education, large mechanical installations and immersive experience. And we’re doing that in order to reveal the world around us like never before and explore how the rhythms of people and the planet are completely intertwined,” said Harland.

“Part of the problem that we have today is that when our rhythms are not intertwined, when they’re out of rhythm, that’s when things go wrong.”

He said he appreciated the pressure on public finances, but that the original Eden had brought back £20 for every £1 invested.

“The vast majority of the budget is going to be about the pandemic,” he said. “But if Rishi Sunak wants to focus on a few glimmers of light, of showing the recovery, then this would be a very good way of doing it.”

“And if not, what we do know is that we’re well-positioned with government for when that conversation can happen. And that would probably be the next fiscal event, the comprehensive spending review.”