A glimpse of Eden

By Ged Henderson

05 Oct 2022

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There hasn’t been a spade in the ground and the question of funding still remains unresolved but the ‘game-changing’ Eden Project North is already having a positive impact economically and socially.

The spotlight that the proposed £100m development has focused on Morecambe and the wider north Lancashire area has sparked increased interest in investment in an area badly in need of regeneration.

There are other visible benefits. Eden has led to the creation of a revolutionary curriculum redefining the role of education and has brought together the business community to explore the further opportunities it presents.

While all this is happening, what happens next for the actual project has turned into something of a waiting game. All eyes are now on the government and its levelling up agenda, which is crucial to Eden moving forward.

Lancaster City Council is looking to secure £50m from the government’s Levelling Up Fund which would cover half of the projected building cost.

It hopes Eden can become one of the two £50m awards being given out in the second round of the fund for projects with a culture and heritage investment theme.

Its bid, which we report on elsewhere in this issue, builds upon the business case submitted to the government in September 2020 and sets out the economic, environmental, social, educational and cultural benefits that Eden Project North will bring to the entire region.

At the centre of it all is the bold vision to re-imagine Morecambe as a 21st century seaside resort, with pavilions inspiring wonder and a connection with the natural world.

Around 300 high-quality green jobs are forecast to be directly created, plus more than 1,000 additional new jobs supported in the region.

Annual visitor numbers are projected to be 740,000 and additional revenue brought into local businesses by Eden North is set to exceed the £50m government investment within months of the project opening.

Alongside the city council, the other partners working with the Eden Project to turn this vision into economic reality are Lancashire County Council, the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership and Lancaster University.

The other £50m of development costs would be sourced from private and philanthropic sources. Planning permission for the attraction was given in February.

City council leader Caroline Jackson has stressed the project is crucial for the area, saying: “It will transform the local economy and have a transformative effect, not just on Morecambe, but the whole region.”

John O’Neill, commercial manager at Lancaster and District Chamber of Commerce and the Morecambe Business Improvement District, is confident that government support will be forthcoming. He says: “It’s such a central plank to the levelling up agenda in this area. It is such a game changer.

“If you really are committed as a government to actually supporting levelling up the north, then this really ticks all the boxes. It’s £50m. In the big scheme of things, it’s not a lot of money for a big punching project.”

He points to the impact Eden is already having through the creation of the ‘Morecambe Bay Curriculum’ which he describes as a “great legacy” of the project, even before a single brick has been laid.

The curriculum taps into the learning potential of the landscape and life around Morecambe Bay and is underpinned by the ‘Eden Project North Education Strategy’.

That strategy aims to bring education and local people together to “share knowledge, green skills and behaviours” to take personal responsibility for the environment and the future of the bay.

The unique curriculum, from pre-natal to 25 years, has seen Lancaster University, Lancaster and Morecambe College and experts from Eden Project North working in partnership with early years settings, local schools and colleges to promote green, practical ‘pathways to learning’ in the natural environment of the bay.

Sitting alongside the national curriculum it also encourages children and young people to make an active contribution to their community through involvement in practical projects.

Maggie Cawthorn, sustainability project coordinator at Lancaster and Morecambe College, describes it as “bringing the curriculum back to the environment.”

She adds: “It is understanding that the environment, and particularly our local environment, is educational and we need to look after it.”

Eden, she believes, has also been a hook to get businesses interested in sustainability and to understand that they need to “gear up” for that.

She says: “That’s an opportunity irrespective of Eden being in the area. It is beginning to make people think more about the opportunities. One of the real opportunities for our area is in terms of green energy, tidal and wind.”

Paul Aisthorpe, managing director of Carnforth based business training company Scale-Ability, says Eden has already made a “massive difference” in putting the spotlight on north Lancashire and creating a ‘feelgood’ factor.

He says: “If we look at some of the developments in the area, can we link some of that to the spotlight. People coming in to the area, investing and thinking, ‘This is the future, is our future’.

“Eden has brought people together to think about ideas and the spin-off ideas and projects that have come from that will continue. Even if Eden doesn’t happen those projects will still be driven forward.”

Fiona Lugiano, deputy chief executive at Lancaster headquartered education qualification awarding organisation and Red Rose Award winner Ascentis, agrees Eden is already making a difference.

She says: “We’ve been working on the Eden Project and with businesses in the local area and we’ve been getting lots of ideas from it.

“It’s almost been an ‘ideas catalyst’ because the businesses we’ve been working with are ones we wouldn’t necessarily be in contact with normally. So that’s something that has come from it.

“It’s not very tangible, it’s not a big, massive project, but it’s getting people talking to each other in the local area which is always a good thing.”

Caroline Rayner, partner at law firm Baines Wilson, has been impressed by the engagement around the Eden North programme and believes the area’s business community has to keep getting behind the project.

She says: “Eden have been speaking from the perspective of being in the business community. They’ve been so engaging; they keep us updated.

“We sponsored a business breakfast a few months ago and they came to speak. They talked about where they were up to, and they are talking about ‘when’ not ‘if’ it happens. They are saying ‘think big’.”

Dan Knowles, digital community developer at Lancaster based D&S Knowles Consulting and Lancashire Digital Hub, believes business are making the right noises. He says: “The key stakeholders are doing what they should be. They are right behind it.

“The chamber, the city council, the county council, the university, I think they’re doing all the right things to make sure that the noise is heard and if it comes it is a game-changer.”

However, there is a sense of frustration over the speed of progress. Charlie Haywood, founder of Lancaster based creative agency Hotfoot Design, believes Eden will continue to attract wider business interest in the district and act as a catalyst for companies to move into the area but says the government now needs to make its move.

He says: “It just seems to be going on and on. If this was planned for a big city, it would have happened a lot quicker. We’ve been having this conversation for years.”

Nick Dagger is head of marketing at Lancaster business ICS Accounting. He would also like to see the government moving faster. And he believes the area needs a Plan B if the unthinkable happens and Eden doesn’t go ahead.

He says: “It is a quick win for the government and people of all generations are keen for Eden to be a success.

“But there is a big question and that is: ‘If it doesn’t happen what is the plan for Morecambe and the district?’”

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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