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Eden Project North

Volume 689: debated on Wednesday 10 February 2021

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

I am delighted to be able to open this Adjournment debate on an issue that is close to my heart and, indeed, to the hearts of many in the north of England, and certainly my constituents. I wish to focus attention on how to persuade the Government to help us get the Eden Project in Morecambe.

We all know that we face multiple challenges coming out of this pandemic—the most difficult of times that we have endured. While none of us has faced a pandemic previously, there are examples in our recent history of projects that we can enact to really change regions and give back hope, and that can deliver the right sort of growth and prosperity while not harming the environment around us. I am talking about projects that we can deliver on the old triple bottom line—economically, socially and environmentally.

We are all painfully aware of the story of coastal communities and the demise of many of Britain’s fine seaside resorts, although there have been some rays of hope, with investments in places such as the Turner in Margate and the V&A in Dundee. Coastal communities that thrived as pleasure resorts in the 19th century have sadly been neglected for far too long. According to a report by the House of Lords Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities, this must surely be the moment for our contribution to levelling up the covid recovery. What is required is investment in deprived regions to improve their levels of human and social capital, research and development, and innovation.

A proven example of such a project is the Eden Project in Cornwall. At the turn of the millennium, the Eden Project team delivered a bold vision that transformed an old clay pit into a truly spectacular asset for Cornwall and the south-west. From an initial public and private investment of £105 million, the Eden Project has returned more than £2 billion directly into the regional economy—a near fifteenfold return on investment going directly to businesses and workers across the region. At the same time, the Eden Project has become a powerful green UK brand, renowned across the whole world for its pioneering fusion of world-class horticulture, art and architecture delivered through a spectacular and unforgettable visitor experience.

Twenty years on, the same team have now reimagined their vision as Eden Project North. Set on a derelict site on Morecambe’s once grand and bustling seafront, the old Lido, it will have even greater potential to transform the community, not just in Morecambe itself but around Morecambe bay, with a world-class visitor destination and a unique educational tool to help unite and inspire the next generation in terms of our natural history and the immense environmental challenges we face as a society. This is a very strange but exciting project. We want to build an ecological park—a bubble—in a seaside resort right in the middle of the town overlooking the beautiful Bay of Morecambe, itself overlooking the foothills of the Lake District and beyond.

As an educational charity, the Eden Project welcomes 50,000 schoolchildren a year to Cornwall and offers degree courses with local university partners. Similarly, Eden Project North is already investing in the future of the region, working with Lancaster University and other local institutions to create a bespoke education and training programme—the Morecambe bay curriculum, empowering young people to help to drive the UK’s green recovery and making the north-west a key player in delivering the Government’s net zero targets and 25-year environmental plan. Meanwhile, we are all working on eliminating educational poverty. This will be an excellent educational facility backed up by excellent educationists in the Lancaster-Morecambe district. There are 427 schools within 25 miles of the proposed site in Morecambe, and it is estimated that Eden Project North will directly engage with over 100,000 students per annum—1 million students over the next decade.

I am sure that the Minister would agree that providing this type of sustainable education fits directly with the Government’s agenda. Given the current impact of covid on pupils and students and the need for the UK to inspire the next generation of environmental entrepreneurs, what better investment could the Government make than to support this incredible opportunity and deliver on so many policy areas at about the same price as two secondary schools? This is exemplary and groundbreaking, and Morecambe is the place to do it. We need to make Morecambe the jewel of the north-west once again.

The health and wellbeing of the wonderful Morecambe bay is at the heart of this timely proposal as well—a beacon for lasting positive social change in one of the north’s most deprived areas. Eden Project North is a model of coastal community regeneration and long-term health benefits, which will be realised through nutritional education with reductions in obesity, diabetes and similar issues, with immeasurable reductions in reliance on many facets of modern healthcare. Eden Project North has set out its mission to improve the health of the bay through a unique ecosystem that can become a model for the 21st century of net-zero-carbon living. This is a whole-bay ecosystem of humans and nature living together.

As we forge our own destiny outside the EU, the need for us to be responsible guardians and stewards of our unique coastlines is self-evident. We have the responsibility to support these coastal communities, allowing them to prosper while encouraging them to respect and actively care for their environment. The Eden Project has a proven track record of community-building activities, including the incredibly successful Big Lunch, which 6 million people every year take part in. A good example is Eden Cornwall’s local pass scheme whereby all Cornwall and Devon residents can buy a pass that allows them to access an all-year-round ticket that is half the price of standard admission. In addition, throughout the year, local residents and key workers such as teachers, Royal National Lifeboat Institution staff and NHS staff are invited to preview events and to access the site for free. I know that this will be welcomed in the Morecambe area as well as the Lancaster area and the whole north-west. The Eden Project engagement team has been working in the local community since 2017 and has received overwhelming support for the plans from local people, businesses and institutions. Ninety-nine per cent. of people who attended the series of consultation events said that they were in favour of Eden Project North—the kind of polling figures that any MP would be happy with.

Social prescribing programmes have been run at Eden Cornwall since 2016, helping hundreds of people, some of whom have had their lives completely changed, from housebound elderly people who now have new friends, to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients who are spending less time in hospital. The creation of these types of projects—epic year-round ventures—can attract 1 million visitors every year to the north-west. That will have obvious employment and output benefits and advantages for the region, the visitor economy and supply chains through focusing on improving the region’s levels of human capital, research and development, and innovation. Quality-of-place investment in projects like Eden Project North can represent an important and significant levelling-up project. This will also help the Morecambe area, as the Morecambe bay link road from the M6 to Heysham port and into Morecambe itself is the quickest link from the M6 to a seaside area in the whole country; it takes less than 10 minutes to get from the M6 to the coast. It has been designed to be a catalytic investment that will provide a step change in the economic fortunes of Morecambe and will be an important economic asset to our region, contributing to the levelling up of economic performance between the north and south.

The high levels of deprivation in Morecambe and the north-west coast are symptoms of being left behind. We do not want to see that any longer. Morecambe is on the up and we want it to flourish, as it once did about 40 years ago and before. People on the north-west coast do feel that they are being left behind. Many local areas along the coast rank in the top 10 most deprived areas of England. The area within which the site is located is one of the most deprived parts of the country. We have to turn this around and make it a better area for us to live in. Although things are getting better in Morecambe, the Eden Project North will be the catalyst that sorts out this problem, a beacon for future generations, and a template for seaside resorts to adopt.

The project will be part of the north-west tourism zone in line with the tourism sector deal. It will be a world-class, epic destination and part of the north-west coastal arc for clean and sustainable growth. As such, it would be good to see sponsorship led by Lancaster University and building on its work with the Health Innovation Campus. Eden Project North would be an asset that can help to capitalise on the five opportunities identified in the science and innovation audit. It will be the brand that helps to galvanise investment and mobilise efforts, around which the partners can co-ordinate activity: communicating the economic importance of clean sustainable growth; improving connectivity between the region’s assets for clean and sustainable growth; enhancing support for connecting businesses to global markets; training regional talent to support and lead clean and sustainable growth; and having the freedom and flexibility to support industrial research and development for clean and sustainable growth, particularly in small and medium-sized enterprises.

Another brilliant exemplar project is the N8 Research Partnership with Net Zero North, which focuses on green collar jobs and agritech developments, enabling Eden Project North to work with the Lancashire agritech group to develop a testbed to offer for productivity improvements in food production. Together, these types of projects will surely demonstrate that the Government have a lot of commitment to levelling up. The Eden Project North is a cutting-edge facility that, through its design and operation, will contribute to meeting the UK’s net zero target by 2050—an emissions pledge that we must keep—and provide jobs for some of the 2 million projected new green collar workers nationally.

Building on the success of the Eden Project in Cornwall, Eden Project North has now submitted its business case to the Government, demonstrating the impact that the development of an epic year-round destination in Morecambe can have. It will attract 1 million visitors a year to Morecambe and inject £200 million a year into the north-west region’s economy, while from day one opening to support 1,500 quality year-round green collar jobs across the whole supply chain. It is fully compliant and has a business case with clear benefits to society. Will the Minister confirm that these are the type of high-quality, new green economic jobs that are needed in the north, and will he prioritise investment into the Eden Project North as part of the economic levelling-up agenda?

Eden Project North has the potential to be a key driver, and an example of socioeconomic and environmental post-covid recovery for the north. Will the Minister confirm which Government funds, such as the shared prosperity fund, could be accessed and which have already been earmarked to enable schemes that will really drive the Government’s levelling-up agenda? Is this project the true embodiment of the Government’s levelling-up, “build back better” aspirations? I think it is. This project is shovel-ready and can be open by 2024, driving the local economy and acting as a beacon to the levelling-up agenda.

If Morecambe is not part of this levelling-up agenda, there will be very little faith among the public, given that Eden Project North has gone through every consultation one can think of. It has gone through many Departments, and this is my third speech on this particular subject of the new jewel in the crown of Morecambe. It will signal very strongly that the Government mean business, because this is a shovel-ready project, ready to be implemented and open by 2024.

We must be seen to deliver on investment across the north. Levelling up does not mean investing only in Manchester, Liverpool or Leeds—the major cities—but levelling up all across the north-west. Can the Minister reassure the people of the north-west, and specifically Morecambe and the Lancaster region, that they will not be forgotten, because Eden Project North will have a huge positive impact across Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire? It is within easy reach of the north’s urban centres. We are only about 40 minutes away from Manchester. We are about 20 minutes away from Preston, and looking further north, we can be in Scotland within an hour and a half.

I would like to see some indication of at what fiscal event Eden Project North will be able to attract match funding. The Eden Project has already got £55 million on the table and ready to go, and we now need some Government investment to make it happen—to get the bulldozers in there to start turning around the fortunes of Morecambe and the Lancaster district and to help turn around the fortunes of the north-west and its tourism.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) on securing a debate on this important issue. He has been absolutely tireless in championing Eden Project North and in his dedication and commitment to the ambition and scale of the proposals and the real benefit they can bring to local communities. As he said, this is the third debate he has held on this subject, so I truly thank him for making sure that Ministers are fully aware of the benefits this project could bring.

My hon. Friend mentions the positive health impacts that Eden Project North can bring. I know that the Morecambe motto of “Beauty surrounds, health abounds” is what Eden Project North is all about. Situated on Morecambe bay, Eden and its partners have already been undertaking work with educational establishments to encourage young people to become engaged in driving the net zero agenda, which is crucial, and improving the health and wellbeing of the community in Morecambe.

We are determined to see all parts of the country, including the north, prosper. 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 every year. When Eden began to look for a second site for a potential development, my hon. Friend was quick to work with local partners to present Morecambe as a potential site for the development. I received letters of support from local educational establishments, the Lancashire enterprise partnership and local government partners, all of which reflect the passion they feel about this project’s economic and social benefits. The strong local partnership, including Lancashire enterprise partnership, Lancashire County Council, Lancaster University and Lancaster City Council, has now brought these plans to fruition. I know that my hon. Friend has been actively speaking to the Chancellor to highlight the aims of the project. That is in addition to the representations made by him, Lancaster University and Eden Project International to my Department and the Treasury for consideration at the spending review and next month’s Budget.

I encourage my hon. Friend and other partners at Eden Project North to continue their engagement with the wide range of Departments that have a clear interest in the wider economic, social and environmental benefits the project could bring—benefits that have been made clear following the business case development that he supported so strongly. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will be interested by the tourism potential and how we can get visitors back into venues like this after the pandemic. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is seeking ways to engage the public in sustainable technologies. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be interested in the coastal impacts, as well as the links to sustainable food production and, of course, officials in my Department will be making those links across Government.

I hope my hon. Friend will understand that I am unable to pre-empt the forthcoming Budget, but I pay tribute to him for the creative and dynamic leadership that he has shown in driving this proposal forward, making sure that it is at the forefront of Ministers’ minds. I know that he has been working across government, and I commend him along with the Eden Project partners for their dedication and hard work. I know that he will continue to convene the various Departments to support plans for future investment.

May I also take this opportunity to thank Professor Dame Sue Black, the pro-vice-chancellor for engagement at Lancaster University, who I know has had a pivotal role? The commitment of Sue Black and the university at large has been very strong right from the inception of this project back in 2015, when they helped to get it off the ground, providing support for all of the early concept work. The wider effort to promote the opportunities that this project would have for communities and businesses across the whole of Lancashire and the northern powerhouse has been truly remarkable. We have seen a strong and unified voice from the local community to make this project a reality, to boost visitors, to create jobs, and to preserve the best that the local area has to offer, and that was largely down to my hon. Friend and his efforts. The fact that the Eden Project has now identified Morecambe as a preferred potential site for the development of an Eden Project North has shown that those efforts are bearing fruit.

As my hon. Friend has outlined, the plan submitted to the Government as an outline business case last September show how Eden Project North would draw on the natural beauty of the area and the unique physical and environmental features of Morecambe Bay. It reimagines Morecambe as a seaside resort for the 21st century, building on the Government-supported £140 million Bay Gateway, with improved connectivity to the region. The Eden Project and the local educational establishments, including Lancaster University, Lancaster and Morecambe College and local schools, have been working together to develop a place-based curriculum and, as my hon. Friend has said, this project has the potential to give a real boost to the world-class tourist industry across the lakes and the dales, thanks to its infrastructure and location. This in turn has the potential to give a real boost to local colonies across Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire.

In total, the proposals outlined projections of more than 950,000 visitors every year and more than 450 full- time jobs, with 1,000 more full-time jobs in the supply chain. They outlined the benefits of working with partners in the north, such as the N8 research partnership and Net Zero North, promoting clean and sustainable growth, and they outlined plans for the site to be an exemplar for the net zero green economy, food production and associated technologies.

My hon. Friend also raised the importance of ensuring that this Government deliver on investment in the north-west, but not just in large cities. He was right to point that out and I completely agree with him. It is vital that all parts of our country feel that they have a part in our shared recovery. He also asked for reassurance for the people of the north-west, particularly for those in Morecambe and Lancaster, that they will not be forgotten. Again, I can give him that commitment. Already we have been pleased to invest in Morecambe through the coastal communities fund, which has, since 2012, invested more than £228 million in 359 projects across the United Kingdom. We have provided funding to help 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, this 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, Britain’s gateway partnership with Manchester Airport, to promote tourist destinations in the north-west, including on the Lancashire coast.

In order to achieve the aims of Eden Project North, my hon. Friend has highlighted the additional investment that is required. This amounts to £125 million, with a request of £70 million from the Government and £55 million contributions from the private sector. We will now consider those proposals carefully.

As my hon. Friend has highlighted, this Government place a priority on levelling up, building back better and, importantly, ensuring that those priorities are translated into real action for the north. I certainly agree that that is absolutely central to this Government’s mission. The pandemic has, undoubtedly, hit some places harder than others, and it is important that people across all parts of the country see, feel and experience the benefits as we look towards our shared recovery.

Now that we are outside the European Union, we have a new opportunity to broaden our horizons and better meet local needs through our new UK shared prosperity fund, which, of course, my hon. Friend highlighted. Freed from the constraints of the poorly targeted and inflexible EU structural funds, the shared prosperity fund will ramp up nationwide investment so that it matches if not exceeds EU receipts, tightly focused on our domestic priorities, developing local economies and breathing new life into our communities.

The Prime Minister has set out his blueprint for a green industrial revolution, through a 10-point plan to support green jobs and accelerate our plan for net zero, as part of this Government’s ambition to level up every region of the country. Delivering the spending review last November, the Chancellor set out how we will deliver stronger public services, honouring the promises that we made to the British people to provide for new hospitals, better schools and safer streets. He also announced that there would be investment in infrastructure and a £4 billion levelling-up fund to deliver the next generation of roads, bridges, railway stations and digital technology, as well as town centre regeneration and cultural amenities that could boost communities right across the country, including coastal communities such as Morecambe. This will play a significant role in our mission to level up and unite the country.

My hon. Friend asked for confirmation that Eden Project North is exactly the kind of project that this Government wish to support. Although I hope he will understand that I cannot make a decision today, I can give him that assurance. Proposals like Eden Project North are part and parcel of our core agenda to secure a vibrant and prosperous north and level up every part of our country. As my hon. Friend has said, this project has the potential to make an economic impact reaching far beyond the town itself, across the whole of Lancashire and, indeed, the northern powerhouse. It has the potential to create high-quality, new, green economy jobs, which are needed in the north.

The north has many areas of outstanding natural beauty, and this project could be an important part of the wider tourism offer, reimagining coastal communities for the 21st century, not just as an international visitor destination, but as a real asset in the region’s post-covid economic recovery. As my hon. Friend said, the fact that it is shovel-ready means that it has real potential to drive local recovery and advance the post-covid economic growth in the north. I look forward to continued conversations with my hon. Friend on this important proposal, and I thank him again for being such a champion of this proposal and his constituents.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published below.