As they gaze out across Morecambe Bay on a cool, clear spring day that reveals sparkling sands and distant snow capped mountains, the bosses of Cornwall’s Eden Project have plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
And here in Morecambe Bay, so should we.
In terms of jobs, there are 500 reasons. Supply chain and local business, 2,600 reasons.
Investment, 84.8 million reasons. And the rest.
With a planning application for the Eden North site on Morecambe Promenade expected in July, and work pencilled in to begin in March 2020, everyone is asking themselves, “Is this really happening?”
“We’ve staked our reputation on it, which is not done lightly”, says David Harland, chief executive of Eden Project International, revealing again the confidence that the organisation has in bringing Sir Tim Smit’s Cornwall vision 360 miles north to Lancashire.
The founder of The Eden Project glances out of the panoramic windows at the Midland Hotel as the horizon begins to collide with the sun and cause that world renowned explosion of light and colour, and quietly and assuredly comments:
“Why would you build something in a place like Morecambe if it’s not going to be on the front cover of every magazine?”
The design of Eden Project North, by architects Grimshaw, is certainly dazzling.
But there are other things that need sorting first, like cash.
“We’re creating momentum, we’re garnering local support, listening to the voices, but keeping our feet on the accellerator,” David said.
“We’re here pretty regularly now, around once a fortnight.
“We’ve just had a partners meeting with the city and county councils, the Lancashire Enterprise Parnership and Lancaster University (who have each committed £250,000 towards a formal business case to keep everyone up to speed.
“We’ve got to deal with planning, land certainty, and money. We’ve got reasons here to engage, and raising the funds is the next stage.
“All these things need momentum behind them but the expectation is on us as well.
“We’re going hell for leather at this point. The site needs to be shovel ready. We want to be ready to go when that funding tap has opened up.”
This “funding tap” is potentially the government’s recently announced Stronger Towns Fund, which has allocated £281m to the North West.
It will be targeted at places that have not shared in the proceeds of growth in the same way as more prosperous parts of the country.
Morecambe is therefore well placed for a share, and the Eden Project plans seemingly couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We’ve met with Jake Berry, the Northern Powerhouse minister, and we know that this is up on the agenda, and it feels like Eden Project North could be one of its focuses,” David said.
“It’s always been our intention to leverage public, private and philanthropic funding.
“We know the commercial sector will come in behind the public sector.
“Basically we’re really confident about this happening.”
The £84.8m plans for the site include biomes shaped like mussels and a focus on the marine environment.
There will also be reimagined lidos, gardens, performance spaces, immersive experiences and observatories.
If all goes to plan, Eden Project North would open in late 2022 and attract 2-3,000 people a day in peak times.
All involved are well aware how much of a game-changer this would be for Morecambe and the wider region.
Ideas like “how you can let water into the site, do we want to bring to life what’s happening out there at sea?, what’s underneath the sand?, where do people want to eat some nice food?, the rhythms of the life of the bay, Morecambe’s rich history,” are all being discussed by the Eden Project team.
And transport to and from the site is also a big issue.
David said: “The city and county council are really helping us with things like a transport strategy.
“We’re very interesting in looking at the future of transport. We see the end of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, so the future infrastructure required is going to be very different.
“We envisage people walking the last half mile to the site.
“Ultimately it’s the council’s strategy and not ours, but it’s meant to be about health and wellbeing and we have strong views about how to do it in the right way.”
He added: “We’re having our entire board meeting up here in May, and bringing everyone together like this is a big deal.
“To open in late 2022 would need everything to go right, but part of this is about saying ‘that’s when it’s got to be’.”