THIS OTHER EDEN
Morecambe prepares to flex its mussels as a major environmental tourist attraction, as PAUL MACKENZIE reports
An artist’s impression of the giant glass mussel shells on
Those huge mussel shells on the previous pages could transform not only Morecambe’s seafront, but also Lancashire’s tourism industry.
They will house the Eden Project North, a second UK base for the environment-themed tourist attraction which has revitalised a former mining area of Cornwall and now welcomes more than a million visitors a year.
The five shells, costing around £80m to build, could be open by 2021 and bosses at the Eden Project’s St Austell headquarters believe they would create more than 300 jobs and attract about 750,000 visitors a year.
David Harland, chief executive of Eden Project International, said: ‘The decline of the British seaside resort is story we are all familiar with. There has been a sense that Morecambe’s glory years are behind it and we like places like that. In St Austell the clay industry was in decline when we started in the 1990s. We want to instil hope and optimism. We want to change the perception into one of awe.
‘Morecambe existed as a place to escape the mills and the mines, a place to take the air and experience the thrill of standing on the end of the pier. But when cheap air travel came in, that sense of the exotic was in reach of all of us. That’s all we’ll be doing now – trying to bring back the exotic.
‘We couldn’t have picked a better place than Morecambe and what has been really encouraging has been the response. Lancashire as a region has been getting behind this and that has been crucial. We have been bowled over by the support we have locally. We are working on projects all over the world and all anyone wants to talk about is Morecambe. Everyone has heard of it, it’s an amazing place.’
Once money is raised to build the vast glass buildings – funding would come from a mix of government money and private backers – construction could begin next year. Inside the shells will be performance spaces, immersive experiences, observatories and pleasure gardens, all inspired by the bay
and marine life. Plans at the moment include creating three observatories, each exploring a different aspect of marine life and touching on issues such as climate change, pollution, health and wellbeing.
‘We are approached a lot but we are picky types,’ said Mr Harland, who added that
Eden Project International is investigating other possible ventures in China, South America and New Zealand. ‘Our response normally is why would we want to? But this one spoke to us and to what we are about.’
‘We were originally approached by Lancaster University and they explained the history of the area. Obviously it’s outstandingly beautiful but there’s also a real sense of momentum in this area of the country.’
The Eden Project in Cornwall has attracted 19 million visitors and pumped an estimated £2bn into the local economy since it opened in a disused clay pit in 2001. And Mr Harland believes the impact in Lancashire could be just as positive.
‘In most places we convince ourselves there’s a market, here we’re concerned with managing the market and making a 365-day-a-year location for people to visit,’ he said.
‘We are trying to build an attraction that brings people in regionally, nationally and internationally. We want to put Morecambe back on the map.
‘Eden in St Austell changed the face of tourism in Cornwall but the numbers there were smaller and Lancashire already has the road and rail connections. It terms of logistics, three quarters of a million people is a lot but it’s spread across 365 days and we know that an event such as Vintage By The Sea brings in more than 30,000 people on a single day.
‘Eden is about connecting people to the natural world and creating experiences that bring the joy and beauty of the natural world to life. We want people to have active experiences, we don’t want this to be passive or a standard museum – we are in the business of giving people experiences they would not get elsewhere.
‘We expect about 750,000 visitors a year. At Cornwall we have just over a million visitors. Morecambe is a smaller site and we’re going to have to manage entry quite carefully and we want local people to be able to visit. We have local passes for residents near the Cornwall site and we’d look at a similar scheme here.’
ABOVE: The famous biodomes of the Eden Project in Cornwall.
BELOW: David Harland, chief executive of Eden Project International