Eden Project North (Morecambe)

– in the House of Commons at 4:53 pm on 17th October 2019.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(James Morris.)

Photo of David Morris David Morris Conservative, Morecambe and Lunesdale 5:00 pm, 17th October 2019

This is yet another momentous day for the people of Morecambe in our quest to get the Eden Project to our shores. This debate follows our last successful Adjournment debate on 6 June.

The Eden Project is now at a critical stage. With this internationally significant project for Morecambe and the north-west region, the site is an area of international environmental importance. Morecambe bay is a designated Ramsar site, as it is the largest continuous intertidal area in Britain; it is also a special area of conservation and within a special protection area. It is key to environmental studies in Britain.

Local funding partners, the county council, Lancashire local enterprise partnership, the city council and Lancaster University are leading investment, with the involvement of Lancaster and Morecambe College to train a future workforce for the future in green initiatives in the Morecambe and Lancaster area. Stakeholder progress is well under way: I can exclusively confirm that the city council and all the other stakeholders that I mentioned are now in agreement and that the process for releasing the land required for building, along with further millions in funding to Eden, will begin when the proposal to the Treasury is taken forward. On that condition, part-funding will come forward from Eden and from central Government, and the land can then be released. The land allocation is welcomed by Eden, in line with what has been reflected in public consultations with it. Indeed, responses to my own survey are still arriving in my office, reinforcing the fact that thousands of people locally and throughout our Lancaster and Morecambe area would like to see the Eden Project become a reality.

The imminent Budget provides the opportunity for a signal that further demonstrates, on top of the £100,000 in the last Budget, the Government’s commitment to this game-changing project. I have had repeated meetings with the CEO of Eden, David Harland, and with the Chancellor; further meetings with the Treasury are ongoing. Lancashire and Eden will collectively lead, but the Government’s commitment is now vital to create a genuinely transformational project for my area.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement

The hon. Gentleman is making a strong case for Eden of the north. I was very touched by his comments about Morecambe bay, but he forgot to mention one thing: quite how stunning it is. I might be biased—I was born on one side of it, and now I live on the other—but it is the most beautiful part of the country. Does he agree that Eden Project North has the potential to transform not just the Morecambe bay area, but the whole north-west economy? The proposed visitor numbers are not small. Would he like to tell us more?

Photo of David Morris David Morris Conservative, Morecambe and Lunesdale

I thank the hon. Lady for describing so eloquently the beauty of our area; she is right. Environmental, economic and social transformation is required on the back of the M6 link road, which was started in 2013. The road has proven to be an economic catalyst for Morecambe, but we now need the Eden Project to complement the existing investment and regenerate the immediate Morecambe area.

The recent case for investment in a report undertaken by Grant Thornton and submitted to the Minister, the Chancellor and even the Prime Minister has provided compelling evidence for Government investment. For every £1 invested, £4.20 will be returned to the immediate regional economy, including the creation of 6,500 jobs in the district and supply chain, with a further £116 million net contribution to the local GDP every year. This is further reinforced by the Eden Project’s operational expertise, which has proven to be such a catalyst for the south-west regional economy during the last 20 years of the Eden Project in Cornwall, creating economic vibrancy and confidence. Eden Project North will be a destination of pride for the north-west and a new anchor of destination from which further growth in employment and skills can and will flow.

It is universally agreed across government that the green agenda must be addressed, and it will be at the forefront of any policies in the future. Government backing for Eden Project North will demonstrate that commitment. In the current climate in this country, the project is also a symbol that says that optimism, ecology, education and community have a place in our future planning. A clear direction from the Government to support the plan will ensure that it will remain on track to open in late spring 2023. That will bring benefits that will lift Morecambe up to full employment and prosperity and will have results beyond the economic areas for health and wellbeing, enhanced education and new skills development, not just for the Morecambe area but for Lancaster as well.

Bluntly, what is needed is for the Government to contribute in the region of £40 million to £50 million in funding, in lesser blocks to be secured, to ensure the opening in spring 2023. At this stage of development, the proposal is estimated at a complete total of £101 million, of which £1.1 million has already been committed in equal parts by the four commissioning partners: roughly £250,000 each from Lancaster City Council, Lancashire County Council, the Lancashire local enterprise partnership and Lancaster University, plus the £100,000 that was allocated in the last Budget by the Chancellor.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement

The hon. Gentleman is making a strong case for the collaboration that is truly going on to try to make Eden Project North happen. I hope that he can see, while he is reading his speech, that the Minister is making some very positive nods of the head. I hope that means that the Minister has his cheque book ready to ensure that the project can be delivered. The hon. Gentleman has made some points about the different stakeholders that are involved, but he has also touched on the green agenda. Does he agree that First Group, which now has the franchise for the west coast main line, should also be part of the conversation, to ensure that public transport solutions for getting to Eden Project North become a reality? We do not want more cars on our roads in Lancaster and Morecambe.

Photo of David Morris David Morris Conservative, Morecambe and Lunesdale

I totally agree with the hon. Lady. From what I can gather, this issue is being dealt with by the planning office at Lancaster City Hall as well. She is correct to say that we need better infrastructure in the area to accommodate the large demand when the Eden centre is built.

The commissioning partners have also committed to funding circa £2.3 million to fund the completion of the concept design phase, which will ensure that the project submits a planning application by spring 2020. In essence, Lancashire will lead if the Government confirm their commitment. Following Treasury approval of £100,000 in the autumn Budget 2018, an additional investment of £40 million to £50 million is being sought, closely linked to the wider industrial strategy for the region. A further announcement of investment commitment at the autumn Budget in 2019 is critical to progressing this project.

Eden Project North will be a catalyst to drive regeneration for Morecambe and the wider area, and not just for the Morecambe and Lancaster area but for the wider north-west economy. This can be done. Since opening in 2001, the Eden Project in Cornwall has contributed £2 billion to the economy of Devon and Cornwall. This proposal is in line with Government policy for seaside town regeneration and with environmental policies, with the Government’s 2050 plan, with the national tourism strategy and with the northern powerhouse policy. It will be a high-quality, year-round attraction and wet weather destination—a crowd-puller that engages all ages.

Eden Project North shares much with the hugely successful Eden Project in Cornwall, but the difference is that it will be a sustainable and transformative marine-based, ticketed, eco-park attraction. At its heart will be a large indoor environment housed within iconic pavilions, building on the Eden Project’s particular mix of entertainment and education, leaving visitors with lasting memories and driving positive behavioural change, which everybody in this House will welcome.

As in Cornwall, Eden Project North will combine exhibits, performance, learning, play, immersive experiences, world-class horticulture and art, and food, beverage and retail spaces—all integrated as essential parts of the overall experience. With nearly 20 years of operational expertise, we are blessed that Eden is coming to Morecambe. The design will include specific zones housed in a series of mussel-shaped domes that will be linked together by an entrance known as the bay hall. Above the hall will be an environment filled with plants and art exhibits, showcasing natural abundance and the rhythms of life linked to the sun and the tidal flow. Below the hall will be immersive theatrical experiences that bring the lunar rhythms and tides to life. The natural sanctuary area will focus on the health-giving aspects of the seaside, with bookable wellbeing treatments. The natural observatory area will be the home of the Eden Project North’s research and education programmes. Eden also has plans to create, in time, satellite elements on the promenade that runs along the seafront, which will be a major game changer in Morecambe.

Owing to the link road, Morecambe is now the quickest route to the coast anywhere off the M6. According to Eden’s founder, Tim Smit, the link road is the reason why Eden came to Morecambe. Market analysis has identified a catchment of approximately 11 million people within two hours of Morecambe that will support annual visitors of 760,000 to the project—a conservative estimate at this moment in time.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Engagement

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is not just about the population who live in the area? The Lake district, which is just up the road from both our constituencies, will also offer plenty of visitors who could visit Eden Project North.

Photo of David Morris David Morris Conservative, Morecambe and Lunesdale

Very well said. The two-hour catchment area could probably stretch all the way from Glasgow over to Yorkshire and the Humber and to Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham. The potential for our area will be vast. The consequent direct and indirect economic benefits will further be sustained by repeated school visits, year in, year out, from that catchment area. Eden Project North will be a financially sustainable, revenue-generating social enterprise and a long-term employment anchor for the region. As I have said, the project will create 6,500 jobs in Lancaster and Morecambe.

The proven integration of research facilities and activities is a pioneering model of partnership between communities and academia. The college and the university have memorandums of understanding right now with Eden to provide a workforce that could create the Aberdeen effect and gospelise the whole world with what they will be learning in the Morecambe bay area.

In conclusion, I would like the Minister to indicate the Government’s commitment to capital investment for Eden Project North and, in doing so, signal that Lancashire can be confident in leading the scheme through to a planning application submission in spring 2020. The Minister has been to Morecambe on many occasions, but I want to give him an open invitation. Perhaps he can bring along our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has indicated that he would like to come to Morecambe for a picture with the Eric Morecambe statue. We have a lot going for us in the Morecambe and Lancaster area, and we now need to sweat our assets of the link road, the beauty of the bay and—dare I say?—the city of Lancaster itself. Minister, please help us to make Eden a reality.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Minister of State (Cabinet Office), Minister of State (Cabinet Office) (jointly with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) 5:14 pm, 17th October 2019

What a brilliant debate, Madam Deputy Speaker; isn’t it fantastic to have a Parliament for the north, with all of us, except you and the Government Whip, representing north-west constituencies? While we are here to talk about the Eden Project, we may as well push a few other of our pet projects in the north-west of England. As a Lancastrian, I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond to my hon. Friend David Morris, whom I congratulate on securing this debate.

One can travel anywhere in Lancashire and find that because of the support of partners, including the local enterprise partnership, Lancashire County Council, Lancaster City Council and Morecambe itself, people are really starting to talk about this hugely exciting opportunity we have in the north-west of England and, more importantly, in Lancashire to have the Eden of the north. It is great that this project enjoys cross-party support, because wherever one goes, one finds that people are excited and passionate about driving forward Lancashire’s economy and they want to see this project delivered.

Of course, this is not the only thing that is happening in Morecambe. I am delighted that we have constructed the new link road with the M6, which is a significant driver of the economy. My hon. Friend has really campaigned on behalf of his constituents, as has Cat Smith, to transform the west coast of Lancashire, and I hope and believe that this can be the next project that drives the economy forward. Since the inception of this project, he has shown a dedication to the vision, and it is a bold vision; if someone were to approach an MP in their constituency and say, “I want to build giant mussel shells on the sand looking out to sea,” the MP could, if they were a doubter or they did not have the vision and passion of my hon. Friend, think that that person may be pulling their leg. But of course they are not, because the Eden Project has a track record of delivering these inspiring structures and inspiring the next generation about helping our environment.

Of course, more is happening in Morecambe, and I was delighted that it has recently secured the funding to go forward to the next phase of the Government’s future high streets fund. I was particularly pleased that in the last round of coastal community funding we were also able to support the Winter Gardens to have a new central heating system, which will transform it to a year-round venue. My hon. Friend is no stranger to the Winter Gardens, because he has a long history of supporting it. I believe I am correct in saying that he appeared there playing a guitar with members of Whitesnake—you may be a fan, Madam Deputy Speaker—to raise funds for the Morecambe Winter Gardens in its darker days, before we managed to support it with the coastal communities fund. He is passionate and he has a record to be proud of in his constituency, and I know he is valued by local residents from my many visits to the area.

I recognise, as do the Government, that the Eden Project North is not significant only to Lancashire—all of us Lancastrians know that it is significant to us—but is regionally and nationally significant, and can be seen as one of those big projects that can be a wider driver of our ambition for the northern powerhouse. That is why at the last Budget the Government committed £100,000 to work forward the business case, as my hon. Friend and the hon. Lady pointed out. The business case, which now sits on the Treasury desk, with a copy having been sent to me and to the Prime Minister, is exceptionally good work and draws a good plan for the future. The hon. Lady invited me to get out my cheque book this evening, but, as both she and my hon. Friend know, there is a Budget next month and decisions on funding on this scale would normally and naturally be made at a Budget. I know that both of them have been actively lobbying the Chancellor to make sure that he is as excited about this project as all of us already are. I hope that they will continue to do that, and I wish them success with their active lobbying work on behalf of their constituents and more widely on behalf of the whole of Lancashire.

It is extraordinary that the Eden Project chose Morecambe when it started to look for a site for an Eden North. Little old Morecambe is a wonderful place—anyone who has visited the Midland hotel will know what a wonderful place it is to spend time with friends and family on a holiday, or even on a day out—but it would not necessarily be the first place that came to mind for this. The project might have thought of better known resorts such as Blackpool, or of the Lake district, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Morecambe was chosen, though, because the local authority and Members of Parliament were extremely active in engaging and lobbying the Eden Project to make sure that the opportunity came to Lancashire.

Morecambe is, of course, an extraordinary place. It has a tide that comes in faster than a horse can gallop. Anyone who has ever been on a guided tour from Morecambe over to what I think in modern parlance is referred to as Cumbria, but was always known as “Lancashire over the sands”, will have seen the extraordinary coastal beauty of the area. Anyone who has done that will, of course, want the project to come to Morecambe.

The economic case is compelling because of the potential economic benefits from bringing the Eden Project to Morecambe. The north has many areas of outstanding natural beauty, and this project could be an important part of the wider tourism offer that we can make from Lancashire and, of course, from the north-west more widely, as we leave the European Union on 31 October. Many people have spoken about the potential for visitors to the north of England—I encourage anyone to go there at any time, without waiting until we leave on 31 October. Other than Members of Parliament, who have to be here on Saturday, everyone else is free to go this weekend—but if the Eden Project was to be delivered, we would see a projected 750,000 visitors to Morecambe and Eden North in just the first few years of operation. It would create more than 6,000 jobs, and, as has been pointed out already, the economic case shows that for every pound spent—whether it be Government money, private money, local authority money or growth funding from the LEP—we will see a return of £4.20, which I can tell the House, as a good Lancastrian, is a good bit of brass for a bit of money that the Government are spending. I hope the Chancellor will be cognisant and mindful of the good economic case for the project as he looks forward to his next Budget.

The Eden Project North has the potential to be a transformational project for the north of England, and for Lancashire more widely. That is why it is very much supported by all Members of Parliament in Lancashire and all tiers of local government. In order to achieve it, I understand that the aim is to find £101 million of investment, which is what will be required to see the project through to completion. It will naturally be a cocktail of funding that comes forward to make sure this happens—I am sure there will be a requirement for some private sector funding and for some public sector funding—and we have some work ahead of us to make sure that we can blend that cocktail and see the project delivered.

As I have said, I believe the investment case for Eden is a compelling argument. There is a strong economic case for bringing the Eden Project to Morecambe. I am happy to work with Lancashire Members of Parliament from across the House on a cross-governmental basis to try to make sure that we can deliver not only the ambition of the Eden Project in the north, but the wider ambition that we all share for the county we are so passionate about. Officials in my Department are already working with the Eden Project, and local partners have today written—I was handed a copy of a letter at the start of the debate—to express the continuing support of local government partners, educational establishments and the LEP. That is an acknowledgment of the wide benefits, including the training and economic impacts, that would come out of this fantastic project.

Over the months and years ahead, I am looking forward to hearing more about the Eden Project, and to seeing the economic benefits that can be achieved. I wish all hon. Members good luck in their negotiations with the Treasury. I will happily work with them, because this is a crucial part of delivering the northern powerhouse that can transform the lives of everyone living in the north of England, and especially in Lancashire.

I end with a quote from Morecambe’s most famous son—after my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale, of course, so Morecambe’s second-most famous son, Eric Morecambe. This is the approach we need to take to the cocktail of funding that we are going to blend. He famously said:

“I’m playing all the right notes. But not necessarily in the right order.”

I hope that we will get all the right money, albeit not necessarily in the right order. Let us work together to make sure that this happens.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

That was an excellent debate, totally different from and in contrast to the rest of the day, and so much better.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.