How councillors reached unanimous 'game-changing' decision on Eden Project North in Morecambe

Lancaster City Council has formally approved planning permission for the Eden North eco-attraction in Morecambe, prompting excitement and praise from councillors and the area’s MP, who says he is now pushing Boris Johnson and the government for funding and said gaining planning approval is the ‘game-changer’.

By Robbie Macdonald, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Tuesday, 1st February 2022, 9:39 am
Updated Tuesday, 1st February 2022, 11:32 am

Councillors on Monday's planning committee raised some concerns and questions about the plans but were overall in favour, voting unanimously to approve the application, which comes with numerous conditions governing the development’s impact on nature, residents, visitors buildings and traffic in Morecambe and the dramatic bay itself.

The bay is an internationally important site for nature and also offers panoramic views across the sands and sea towards the Lake District mountains.

Councillors asked about the Eden North’s impact on numerous listed buildings and structures nearby.

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How the Eden Project North could look.

These include the art-deco Midland Hotel, which was regenerated by architects agency Urban Splash, and the Winter Gardens, a former concert hall once known as the ‘Albert Hall of the north’. It is currently being restored and recently hosted a gig by The Levellers.

Traffic and car parking concerns both in Morecambe and at a park-and-ride site at Junction 34 of the M6 were also raised by some councillors.

There were also questions about disabled access, toilets and parking spaces near the new Eden North, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which has raised no objections or comments, a possible alternative or extra park-and-ride site at Heysham and the promotion of B&B businesses and accommodation north of Morecambe and Lancaster.

But councillors were generally happy with the plans and all 11 on the committee approved it in a vote.

The Eden site in Morecambe.

Planning officers explained various measures designed to lessen any negative impact and said, overall, the many benefits the Eden development offered would outweigh any negative impact.

Mark Cassidy, head of planning at Lancaster City Council, said: “This has been a massive planning process. The Eden North project team has worked closely with Lancaster City Council, especially our major applications officer Jennifer Rehman. There have also been extensive meetings on matters including environmental, flood risks, transport, economic and social benefits.

“I would like to thank everybody who has been involved in all the hard work. It shows what can be achieved when all parties work together to discuss these issues.

“This offers significant transformational, social and economic benefits for the Morecambe area and the wider north west. This will create direct and indirect employment opportunities. It will boost the visitor economy and act as a serious catalyst for future developments. The Eden Project in Cornwall has already boosted that region’s economy by £1.7 billion and had 18 million visitors since it opened.

An aerial view of how the Eden Project North could look.

“The diverse programme of social and community projects, particularly about reconnecting with the environment and well-being, will also have significant benefits for our area. This is an outstanding opportunity to reinvent Morecambe for the 21st Century.”

Labour councillor Janice Hanson said: “I do support this. However, some residents do have concerns about the size of the buildings and whether it will be out of proportion to Morecambe? But I think it’s a fabulous project that Morecambe needs. If we approve this, we now need to get the funding.”

Labour councillor Robert Redfern said: “I think this is probably what Morecambe has been looking for for years. We can sort out the details with parking. But let’s support this planning application and then hope Eden gets the funding it needs.”

Green councillor Tim Dant said: “I am a convert to this. I grew up in a seaside town where there was a fun fare and scenic railway running along the sea front. But this Eden Project will be better than those. The design and innovation is amazing and aims to address climate change issues. This is something we seldom see in other planning applications.”

Councillors repeatedly praised planning officers Mark Cassidy and Jennifer Rehman for their work, along with other planning department staff.

Planning committee chairman, Conservative councillor Keith Budden, said: “It would be remiss of me not to mention the quality of work coming from Lancaster City Council’s planning officers. They have created a huge and detailed document about Eden North.

“I’m very excited about Eden North coming to Morecambe. I visited the Cornwall site years ago when it first opened, A friend of mine was down there recently and said it had really progressed. But he also said the buzz down there was about the plans for Morecambe.”

Morecambe's Conservative MP David Morris was in the public seating area to watch the planning commitee meeting.

Speaking afterwards, he said: “Finally after four years planning permission has been approved for Eden North. This will be a game-changer for Morecambe.

“I am already in discussions with the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, the Chancellor and Michael Gove, and I have a letter signed by 51 MPs from all over the country backing the project and calling for government funding. Michael Gove is doing the White Paper at the moment and we will then have to apply for funding under new criteria. That’s where we’re at now.

“We need £75million from the government to ensure Eden North comes to Morecambe. This should be a major Levelling-Up project for Morecambe, Lancaster and the north of England. This will be the jewel in the crown for the north west.”

David Harland, chief executive of Eden Project International Ltd, said afterwards: “We are delighted. This is a key step forward for making Eden North a reality. We were also really pleased with the positive comments from councillors and their unanimous vote for the plans.

“Now, we have got to get funding finalised. We are talking to central government about that and links to their Levelling-Up agenda.

“We have a bold vision for Morecambe, connected to sustainable tourism, climate change, environmental issues, skills and education. Eden North can be an international exemplar for the UK leading the way in these areas, and can also be a huge symbol that good things can happen.”

Green councillor Caroline Jackson, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “This is a fantastic day for Morecambe and the whole Lancaster district. It is a great reward for all the hard work that has been done over the years.

“It represents a new beginning for Morecambe, for the economy and for young people. It’s also going to be great that people will see such wonderful views of the bay and find out more about it when they visit.

“In education, the Eden curriculum has already started and is inspiring young people with the Eden way of looking at things. It highlights the importance of the outdoors and being in your own environment.

“There should be important economic benefits too for the wider area. Local farmers, manufacturers and suppliers will also be involved. It will change this area and the hinterland.

“We now need the government to get behind us with funding. The government will look at this and hopefully think what better project is there to demonstrate the Levelling-Up agenda?”

Labour councillor Erica Lewis said: “I’m really excited that planning permission has been approved. We hope that is the last hurdle, in terms of the government coming forward with supporting what is a beautiful and special project but could also become a keystone in Levelling-Up projects in the north west.”

She added: “I was disappointed that Eden North was not mentioned in the current draft Greater Lancashire ‘county deal’ devolution proposal. But I hope the government will still understand the huge community support for this project and make a swift decision about funding.”

The Greater Lancashire ‘county deal’ devolution proposals have been created jointly by leaders of all the councils in Lancashire, in an attempt to secure greater devolved decision-making and central government funding for Lancashire, following devolution deals in other English regions.