'No-one should worry' - Morecambe's £85m Eden Project North still on track, says CEO
The planning application for the £85m project on Morecambe Prom has been pushed back to 2021, but this should not affect the 2023 completion date.
David Harland, CEO of Eden Project International, remains upbeat about the plans, despite all the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
He said regular meetings were still taking place with Eden Project North's partners Lancaster City and Lancashire County Councils, the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, and Lancaster University, which each gave £250,000 to finance design and planning.
Central government also granted £100,000 to move the project forward.
It is hoped further financing will come from public funding pots and philanthropic donations.Mr Harland said that despite the "completely crazy situation" created by the Covid-19 pandemic, the organisation has managed to continue working quietly in the background.
"I think this is seen as a project that ticks all the boxes in terms of it being clean and green growth," he said.
"In Cornwall it was a demonstration of hope, and I strongly believe that what we're doing here is to bring this sense of hope and optimism to Morecambe.
"A few things are delayed, but no-one should worry."
The original Eden Project site in Cornwall is currently closed, but Mr Harland said he was hopeful it could re-open in early July.
He said that the attraction has 600 people on furlough, and it had lost nearly £5m in revenue since closure.
Eden Project International recently announced another major project in Northern Ireland.
Eden Project Foyle in Derry~Londonderry is also due to open in 2023."The cycle that we're in is about making our case to government who are obviously and understandably distracted at the moment, so the original partners have really come to the fore," said Mr Harland.
"The fact that we're holding regular meetings is a strong signal that things are still very positive.
"We've got to allow ourselves a bit more time around the edges but it won't ultimately delay the project."
In March this year, Eden Project North agreed a land deal with Lancaster City Council, which owns the site on Morecambe Promenade.The £85m project aims to breathe new life into the former Bubbles swimming pool complex, with plans for the site that include “biomes” shaped like mussels and a focus on the marine environment.
There will also be re-imagined lidos, gardens, a 4,000 capacity performance space, immersive experiences and observatories.
Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris said the project would be a "game changer", not just for the fortunes of the town but for the wider North West region.
The strong focus on people and their relationship to the environment has never been more important either.
"We're all looking at things in our own lives, and wondering about 'the new normal'," Mr Harland said.
"It's fascinating that a little virus, which is also part of the natural world, has hopped across an animal divide, and shown us that not only are we connected to eachother, but with the entire planet.
"There's going to be a degree of fear moving forward, but there's going to be an interest in finding a way to represent this moment in our history and that is important.
"The question for me is how we don't go back exactly the same, and my worry is that us humans tend to like what we know, and we've spent millennia trying to avoid change.
"This change has been enforced (on us) and it's clear that it will have positive effects on the environment."
There will also be a major focus on transport, and how visitors move to and from the site.
This includes the potential pedestrianisation of Morecambe Promenade, and a vision for no fossil fuel vehicles within the last two miles of a visitor’s journey to Eden Project North.Mr Harland also pointed to the way we use office spaces, and conduct meetings, and how this could change in the future, especially given that a large number of people have been successfully working from home.
"What sort of buildings do we want to design? And what sort of spaces do we want to occupy?" he said.
"I was imagining the walkway in Morecambe, and I saw some designs in Amsterdam - greenhouses that people can eat in - and I thought this could work really well in Morecambe.
"We want to work with The Midland and The Winter Gardens to have some fun with the space.
"I think things will invariably change, but exactly how it will come out the other side is not yet known, but putting it bluntly, if we don't adapt, we die.
"My hope is that we come out of this stronger, but also more focused on clean and green growth, as well as doing some good things for the planet."
If all goes to plan, Eden Project North would open in 2023 and attract 2-3,000 people a day in peak times.