A former Lancaster University student from Morecambe is the brains behind multi-million pound plans to bring Cornwall’s Eden Project north.
Ian Hughes drew up detailed plans for an Eden Project development and heritage centre on Morecambe Prom in April 2013, after looking at how other seaside towns across the country had turned themselves around.
Ian, 56, said he was “just thinking outside the box” and then set to work on a detailed draft document for the former Dome site, which he then presented to senior leaders at Lancaster University.
The Eden Project’s chief executive David Harland said last week that plans are in their early stages, but he was working with partners the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, Lancaster University, Lancashire County Council, and Lancaster City Council to turn Ian’s vision into a reality.
“I have total belief in the potential for Morecambe,” Ian said.
“I saw how Tate St Ives and the Turner Gallery in Margate changed the fortunes of those towns, and I thought, what would be perfect here in Morecambe...and it was Eden.
“I spoke to a lot of key people but my goal was always to get Lancaster University on board with it.
“There was no way I could do this by myself, it had to come from someone like the uni.”
Ian’s detailed document includes plans for a “seashore biome” creating a micro-seashore environment for both educational and recreational purposes.
The report says: “As with the original Eden Project, the inside would be landscaped creating macro examples such as wetland, salt marsh, limestone pavement and escarpments, waterfalls and river environments plus other features, all including the inherent plantlife.
“Alternatively, there is our tectonic story, whereby England/Wales/Southern Ireland (not Scotland) were once on the equator when everything was a single land mass. Displays could include ancient plantlife like ferns, bromeliads and succulents.
“An area could portray desert life and the story could tell how our natural/shale gas formed. It may be possible to show the Ice Age story, how the land here was shaped and how climate change would alter it with rising sea levels and global warming. This would be more geology/topography and certainly climate change focussed, of course, though the experts would still be able to create a fascinating and educational experience.”
After submitting the plans, Ian went on to do a Masters in Natural Sciences at Lancaster Univeristy. He said: “We’ve got such an important place here environmentally, and I knew it had to be one of the key unique selling points. Since then the university and Eden have been in discussion over a long period. There’s only Eden that can make this happen. “I’m not after glory, just a little bit of recognition about where this came from.”
Ian has recently set up a new business called Oakstone Environmental Consulting, and is also working on sustainability measures for this year’s Morecambe Carnival.
Ian points out in his report that within a two hour drive of Morecambe there are approximately 13,250,000 people, whereas there are only around approximately 670,000 people living within a two hour drive of the Eden Project near St Austell, Cornwall.
The Eden Project consistently has over one million visitors per year.
David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, said he is working with the government and Powerhouse minister Jake Berry to secure funding for the project.
He added: “It is an extremely exciting project and will bring a number of opportunities to our area.
“If Eden gives only a small percentage of those benefits to our area it will be a game changer for Morecambe and its regeneration.”
Coun Darren Clifford, cabinet member for culture, leisure and tourism on Lancaster City Council, which owns the land, said: “It’s early days but if it proves possible to progress these exciting ideas there could be huge benefits for Morecambe and the wider area.
“This could be a major attraction and educational facility, creating new jobs and providing the district with a big economic boost.
“That is why we are supporting the feasibility study with partners - but we must wait to see the outcome and the finances will need to stack up.”
Susannah Bleakley, chief executive of Morecambe Bay Partnership, said: “Anything that’s going to bring the eyes of the world to Morecambe is to be applauded and the Eden Project would be a marvellous partner. The project would be completely transformational.”
John O’Neill, Morecambe BID Manager, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for Morecambe and the whole district.
“It has the potential to turn us into the premier seaside resort in the north, if not the country. Naturally some people are sceptical but, provided it passes all the hurdles and gets the government backing, it will transform the area bringing the right type of investment in. Everyone should benefit.”
Alistair Eagles, President of Lancaster & District Chamber of Commerce, said: I cannot think of a better way to kickstart the local economy and bring new visitors in than having a Northern Eden project in our area focusing on the unique ecology of Morecambe Bay.
“The Chamber of Commerce will continue to work with all the key stakeholders as jointly we push like mad to get this delivered.
“However nothing is yet certain and public support is vital if we are to bring this concept ahead to a completed scheme. It’s time for this area to look ahead not back and I would urge all local businesses and residents to support this incredible landmark tourist attraction.
“Morecambe really does now have the opportunity to go from ‘maybe’ to ‘must see’.”