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Eden North: Benefits for Lancashire

Volume 701: debated on Wednesday 22 September 2021

Before we begin, can I encourage Members to wear masks when not speaking? This is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the economic benefits of Eden North for Lancashire.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I am delighted to be here today to debate the economic benefits of the proposed Eden Project North in Morecambe, Lancashire, a subject that is very close to my heart and my constituency. Eden Project North will be built right in the centre of Morecambe, on the seafront. It is revolutionary in that respect. To use a famous quote,

“Time and tide wait for no man.”

Indeed, that is the theme of Eden Project North.

Eden has just gone through planning, and millions of pounds have already been spent on the project to bring it to this point. We have just been through the most difficult of times; while none of us have previously faced a pandemic in our lifetimes, there are examples in our recent history of the type of projects that can really change regions, and this is one of them. The project will give back hope and deliver the right sort of growth in an area that really needs it—not just for my constituency, my hometown of Morecambe, but for the wider north-west of England. I am talking about projects that can deliver on the old triple bottom line of being economically, socially and environmentally sound.

We are all painfully aware of the story of coastal community decline from the 1970s to the present day, but we have many fine seaside resorts in Britain. Coastal communities that thrived in the 19th century have been neglected for too long. According to a report by the Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities, that is a fact. This surely must be the moment for our contribution to the Government’s levelling-up project and the covid recovery.

Investment in deprived areas is required to improve the region’s levels of human and social capital, research and development, and innovation. As I speak, Eden Project North has met another milestone: the submission of its planning application. It has taken millions and millions of pounds of local government spending to get to this point. This is a huge moment for Eden, the result of years of hard work from both the Eden team and its local partners in Lancashire. The investment of time, energy and money that went into preparing it is a real statement of the intent of the Eden Project, but it still needs Government funding to become a reality.

I must thank the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer on the record for giving £100,000 to kick-start the Eden Project in my area three or four years ago. We have Government intent; it is now a case of pushing forward to see where the money will come from. In my opinion, there is no better example of the Government’s levelling-up aspirations than Eden Project North. It has been demonstrated in Cornwall for more than 20 years. Eden Projects provide economic benefits for their communities that far outweigh the investment needed to build them. In Cornwall, from an initial investment of £105 million, Eden has so far contributed more than £2.2 billion to the regional economy. Through its huge and continuing popularity, local sourcing policy has been turbocharging the local economy. This will benefit not only businesses in Morecambe, but businesses in the wider north-west area.

This is testament to the shared prosperity the Eden Projects can bring to a particular region. In Lancashire, we need this jewel in the crown of the north-west to shine. This must not happen by chance; only by being clear from the beginning and investing in regional supply chains will the economic benefit happen and jobs be created, not just at Eden Project North but through many firms across the north-west.

An investment in the Eden Project is an investment in people, too. Twenty years ago, young people in Cornwall felt that they needed to leave the area to get a decent job. Now, they see huge opportunities driven by increased profile and prosperity, as well as better educational provision. Eden works with schools and further and higher education providers to inspire and educate learners of all ages. In Cornwall, they welcome 50,000 schoolchildren a year and offer degree-level courses with local university partners. Eden Project North will have a larger catchment than that, because schools can only transport children in a vehicle for up to two hours. The catchment area in Morecambe would be all the way from the Scottish borders to the midlands and across to the east coast. In Morecambe, the Morecambe bay curriculum has already been established, a bespoke, place-based education and training programme catering to students throughout the education system.

Eden Project North will welcome 1 million visitors a year and inject around £200 million a year into the north-west regional economy, supporting 1,500 quality green-collar jobs across the supply chain. Such jobs are crucial, and the education programmes that provide training for them will be vital for Government to realise their zero-carbon ambitions, and will make the north-west a leading green hub.

Like most coastal communities, Morecambe would be a beacon of regeneration in the Government’s levelling-up agenda. The pandemic has made that need only more acute. A Government investment of £70 million will make Eden Project North viable and ready to open in under three years. The economic and social benefits and impacts would be seen almost immediately. The return on investment will be swift, with economic impact due to surpass the Government’s investment within six months of opening. I know from the research that Eden has done for the planning application that my community is wholeheartedly in support of the project. Now it is time for the Government to put faith in the project, too.

The creation of Eden Project North will be epic, an all-year-round venue that can attract 1 million visitors every year to the north-west. That will have obvious employment benefits and knock-on effects for the region’s visitor economy and supply chains. Eden Project North has been designed to be a catalytic investment that will provide a step change in the economic fortunes of Morecambe and be an important economic asset to the region. That can only contribute and deliver an example of the levelling up of the north-south economic performance. There is a residential catchment of 10.5 million people in the region of the north-west of England where I am from. We are looking for £70 million. Just in that local catchment of the north-west of England, there are 427 schools. The situation will be ongoing for time immemorial, because every child in a school year will visit Eden Project North maybe once or twice a year. Eden Project North will be an asset and beacon for green initiatives and growth. In partnership with Eden, local colleges and universities are already educating for the green-collar jobs in emerging global economies. There is a memorandum of understanding for Morecambe to train future workers for Eden internationally. That is already happening

As I said at the start, time and tide wait for no man. The tides are clearly changing as we try to level up the country. I for one do not want to wait too much longer before we deliver this important project in my home town of Morecambe and for the rest of the north-west of England. Eden Project North has the potential to be the key driver of socio-economic and environmental victory in post-covid recovery for the north of England. Will the Minister confirm which Government funds have been earmarked to enable schemes to drive levelling up? Eden Project North is a true embodiment of the Government’s levelling-up, “build back better” aspirations. It is shovel-ready and can be open by 2024, driving the local economy and acting as a catalyst in the levelling-up agenda.

This is precisely the type of project that is worthy of Government commitment. The Government must be seen to be delivering investment across the north. Levelling up does not mean investing only in Manchester, Liverpool or Leeds. Will the Minister reassure the people of the north-west—specifically Morecambe—that they will not be forgotten? Eden Project North will have a huge positive impact across Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. It is within easy reach of nearly all the north’s urban centres. We have the quickest route to the coast and seaside from the M6 from anywhere in the country. That is why Eden is coming to Morecambe.

Will the Minister confirm that this is exactly the type of project that the Government wish to support in demonstrating their commitment to levelling up? I am sure the Minister will agree that this would be a unique opportunity to create a collaborative project, to reimagine the British seaside resort for the 21st century and be a model for sustainable coastal community regeneration.

My community, along with Eden, has done its job. Millions have already been spent in trying to level up Morecambe, the jewel in the crown of the north-west. It is now time for the Government to put their money where their mouth is. Give us the investment to build back better. Help us put back the sparkle in the rest of the crown of the north-west of England by helping my community build back better, creating prosperity for future generations with Eden Project North in Morecambe.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I have come here today to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) for the work he has put into the project.

As my hon. Friend articulately set out, the project does not just touch Morecambe and even Lancashire. I am a Greater Manchester Member of Parliament. The vast majority of my constituents will probably think of themselves as Lancastrians, but we will say Greater Manchester for the sake of this argument. My constituency is half to three quarters of an hour away from my right hon. Friend’s constituency and every school in my constituency would visit the project. Vast numbers of my constituents would flock to Morecambe to see this incredible regenerative project—I cannot think of a better word—that is going to transform our area. There are a lot of people in the north-west, but we are interlinked. Cumbria, Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside: we are all in this together. One project that offers the benefits that have been outlined by my hon. Friend benefits us all, educationally, regeneratively and jobs-wise. It is important to say that.

Sometimes, when we are having these debates and individual MPs stand up and make the case for investment in their area, it is important, because we want to bring investment as close as possible. My hon. Friend is correct; he does not just want Manchester and Leeds to be the main centres. I am arguing for Bury, Ramsbottom and other towns in my seat to have investment as part of the levelling-up agenda. However, I think it is important that another MP is here from the region to say that what my hon. Friend is saying is correct. This will be a jewel in the crown of the north-west. It will power regeneration, education and job creation—and not just in Morecambe. It will give opportunity to young children and people in my area who want to have a career working at the Eden Project. There is no chance of that happening at the moment.

I know that the Minister, who is the best of men, will be supportive of this, whatever he says today. However, I want to say that the project will be genuinely transformative. It will make a difference to the whole of the north-west, including my constituency. My constituents would want me to be here to say that this is the absolute epitome of the levelling-up agenda. Everything that that agenda means to all of us is epitomised in this one project. I finish by saying, once again, that my hon. Friend is doing an unbelievable job on behalf of his constituents with this project. I am glad that I am here to say that.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Efford, having enjoyed that pleasure on the Building Safety Bill. I have a tickly cough, so if it sounds like I am struggling to get through the speech, it is because I am. Let us hope, for all our sakes, that we make it to the end.

I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) for securing a debate on this important issue and for the effusive support he has from not even a neighbouring MP, but an MP from a different county. We do not often see that in this place. We can tend to be a bit parochial and territorial in trying to secure money just for our constituency, so it is great to see that the project has the draw that another Member would come and offer his support for the greater good of the north region. Also, my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale is an accomplished musician. During the 1980s, he played with Rick Astley and Rick’s song “Never Gonna Give You Up” seems particularly apposite when we think about the commitment that my hon. Friend is showing to the project. It is a credit to the hon. Member and his efforts that Eden Project International has identified Morecambe as a preferred potential site for the development of Eden Project North.

Projects such as the proposal to create an Eden Project North in Morecambe have the potential to have an economic impact that reaches far beyond the town itself and across the whole of Lancashire and the northern powerhouse, as beautifully illustrated in the contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly). The Prime Minister set out his commitment to the northern powerhouse at the convention of the north in 2019. He has also set out his blueprint for a green industrial revolution through a 10-point plan to support green jobs and accelerate our path to net zero as part of this Government’s ambition to level up the country. In my role as Minister for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, I am determined to see all parts of the country prosper, including the north.

Since the Eden Project opened in Cornwall in 2001, it has established itself as a major UK visitor attraction, with an estimated 1 million visitors per year. When Eden began to look for a second site for potential development, my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale was quick to work with local partners to present Morecambe as a potential site for that development. Their plan showed how Eden Project North could draw on the natural beauty of the area and the unique physical and environmental features of Morecambe bay, reimagining Morecambe as a seaside resort for the 21st century, building on the Government-supported £140 million bay gateway that has improved connectivity to the region.

Eden has worked with local partners, including Lancashire enterprise partnership, Lancashire County Council, Lancaster University and Lancaster City Council, to bring those plans to fruition. I have seen the strength of the local proposals, and Eden continues to develop and engage with Government on ideas for this project. That work resulted in the production of an outline business case that was presented to Government in September 2020. Eden Project North projects that it will receive over 950,000 visitors per year, with over 450 full-time jobs and over 1,000 full-time jobs supported within the supply chain. Other benefits have been outlined, such as working with partners in the north, including the N8 Research Partnership and Net Zero North, to promote clean and sustainable growth. I understand that the site is planned to be an exemplar for the net zero green economy, food production, and associated technologies.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale has a strong commitment from the local population, as they want to see the project become a reality for Morecambe, attracting new visitors and shedding the town’s perhaps slightly old-fashioned image while retaining the best bits of its heritage. The Government have previously been pleased to invest in Morecambe through the coastal communities fund, which since 2012 has invested over £228 million in 359 projects across the UK. We have also provided funding to establish 146 coastal community teams around the English coast, including the Morecambe bay coastal community team, and financial support for the Winter Gardens at Morecambe. Through the £45 million Discover England fund, the Government have supported Lancashire and the north-west through the development of international marketing. That includes Marketing Lancashire’s campaign to encourage visitors from the Nordic countries and investment in VisitBritain’s gateway partnership with Manchester airport to promote tourist destinations in the north-west, including the Lancashire coast.

I know that my hon. Friend has been actively speaking to the Chancellor, and indeed the previous Chancellor; I have seen him in the Lobby, bending the ear of any and every Minister who he thinks might be able to help with his cause. The man is tireless, and it is a pleasure to see him in action, highlighting the project and championing the opportunities it would present for communities and businesses across the whole of Lancashire and the wider north. I have received letters of support from local educational establishments, the Lancashire enterprise partnership and local government partners, reflecting the passion they all feel for this project and the economic and social benefits it would bring.

In last year’s spending review and this year’s Budget, though, the Chancellor advised that his immediate priority was to protect people’s lives and livelihoods as the country continued to battle the coronavirus outbreak, but we now have a comprehensive levelling-up agenda to deliver. The Chancellor has set out how the Government will deliver stronger public services, honouring the promise they made to the British people to provide new hospitals, better schools and safer streets. He announced that there would be investment in infrastructure and a £4 billion levelling-up fund.

My hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale highlighted that an investment of £125 million is required, with a request of £70 million from the Government and £55 million of contributions from the private sector. As he is aware, we are facing a tight spending review, given wider fiscal pressures. We also need to be able to assess fairly the relative merits of this project for levelling up, alongside other propositions in the Lancashire area and across other parts of the country. We have given feedback to Eden colleagues on how the funding package could be restructured to make it suitable for existing funding opportunities, and my officials continue discussions with Eden.

We recognise the potential that the project offers for Morecambe and Lancashire; however, our position remains as discussed with Ministers in July—the project needs to go through a competitive process such as the levelling-up fund or the UK shared prosperity fund. I look forward to continued conversations with my hon. Friends the Members for Morecambe and Lunesdale and for Bury North on this project, including on how we can deliver on the Prime Minister’s vision and this Government’s commitment to levelling up and securing a vibrant, prosperous north.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.