Detailed designs will be developed for the Eden North project in Morecambe after it was handed the final piece of funding needed to launch the next phase of the scheme.
The Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has committed £250,000 towards the creation of a formal business case, equalling pledges made in recent months by Lancashire County Council, Lancaster City Council and Lancaster University.
READ MORE >>> Eden boss says he is "confident" that Morecambe attraction will get off the drawing board
The Eden Project, the education charity behind a venue of the same name in Cornwall, will now match that £1m total to commission further architectural work and explore how the attraction itself could be financed. The total bill for the concept is estimated to be in the region of £80m
The scheme is expected to feature five giant mussel shells and will house exhibitions focusing on marine life, in contrast to the South West site which is centred on plants and rainforests.
Papers presented to a meeting of the LEP board revealed that the provisional design has been “inspired by the natural environment of Morecambe Bay” and will also focus on real-life research into natural and human health.
Members were told that an initial business case had shown that the project had the potential to become one of the most important tourist destinations in the UK, with previous estimates by the charity itself having suggested visitor numbers of up to 8,000 per day.
Interim chair of the LEP, David Taylor, said the scheme would have have to overcome the “cynicism and scepticism” which plans for the Cornwall venue were greeted with when they were first mooted.
“This really is a transformational project and it has actually been done before, so you’ve got a precedent,” he said.
The meeting heard that Lancaster University will monitor how the public sector’s cash contributions are used in order to to reach agreed milestones and targets.
“The first phases of research were about whether there was a market for the project - this is actually taking it onto the next stage stage to allow [delivery] of [it],” Kathryn Malloy, the LEP’s head of co-ordination, said.
Late last year, Si Bellamy, head of Eden Project International, said he was “really confident” that funding could be found to make the Morecambe attraction a reality.
“We’re looking at grants, government funding, some private investment and philanthropy,” he said.
“We’ve got an incredible vision for this place, and the question is, are you with us?”