Eden Project North (Morecambe)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:14 pm on 17th October 2019.

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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.