David Morris – 2019 Speech on Morecambe

Below is the text of the speech made by David Morris, the Conservative MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, in the House of Commons on 6 June 2019.

I will give a very condensed history of my beautiful Morecambe and Lunesdale seat, and particularly of Morecambe itself. According to the excellent book, “The Lost Resort?” by Roger Bingham, Morecambe gets its name from the Vikings—it means “pleasant view” or “pleasant bay.”

Morecambe has seen its fortunes ebb and flow over the past 100 years. It is fair to say that Morecambe was on the decline 20 years ago. After the two nuclear power stations were built—the tourism industry was kept buoyant by the workers building the power stations—there was a sudden collapse in the local economy. Fast forward to 10 years ago and the dilapidated Midland hotel was bought and completely rebuilt by Urban Splash, which did a fantastic job. That art deco gem still has three iconic Gill murals, one on the ceiling.

Adjacent to the Midland hotel are the Winter Gardens, a beautiful Edwardian theatre that, again, has seen worse times but is now back on the mend due to the efforts of the sadly late Evelyn Archer. She was a leading light in keeping the doors of the Winter Gardens open, despite it having no heating system.

The Friends of the Winter Gardens have restored the theatre to a point where it can put on shows again. A great thanks should go to Professor Vanessa Toulmin, who took over from the legendary Evelyn Archer. The group has raised money over the years and, dare I say it, I enlisted a couple of my friends, David Hasselhoff and Bernie Marsden from Whitesnake, to give their support.

Fortunes are increasing due to the copious Government funding that has been pumped into Morecambe since 2010, but we need more. Opposite the Winter Gardens, and at the side of the iconic Midland hotel, is an area that we refer to as the Bubbles site, which is where the lido used to be a long time ago. The site has attracted the attention of Cornwall’s Eden Project, which wants to make a marine-based project in Morecambe to rival anything that Europe and the Eden Project itself have to offer.

Since becoming an MP, my intention has always been to bring Government investment into Morecambe, which was previously starved of investment. People could not get to Morecambe directly, so they had to go through Lancaster. I am grateful to the Government for helping me to secure £130 million, or thereabouts, for a link road that completely transformed the area. It is estimated that for every £1 that has gone into the link road over the past few years, £6 has been put into the local economy.

Such infrastructure programmes have to pay a dividend somewhere. Although I secured the funding to sort out the Greyhound bridge from Lancaster to Morecambe and the bypass coming in from the M6, we need something to bolster the area’s fortunes and reinvigorate Morecambe.

Morecambe used to have what I loosely call “kiss me quick” tourism. Since we have sorted out the sea wall defences with £40 million of Government funding, we have started to see a renaissance of tourism. We have ​started to see new hotel chains, including Best Western. That was unheard of only a few years ago. In fact, Morecambe is now starting to move above Lancaster in the league of prosperity, but we need something to secure Morecambe’s future.

Unbeknown to me until chamber of commerce manager John O’Neill told me, the quickest way to the seaside anywhere from the M6 is the Heysham bypass or the bay gateway—the link road that was recently built. Because of that, the Eden Project wants to come along. So we have to look to the future. What would Eden bring to Morecambe? Eden is a unique visitor attraction of regional and national significance. If it comes to Morecambe and it is planned, and if we can get Government funding, it can open in 2023. Following the Treasury approval of £100,000 in the autumn Budget in 2018, an additional investment of £40 million to £60 million is needed. This has been sought and is closely linked to the wider industrial strategy of the region—not just Morecambe, but the whole north-west region. Eden north will be a catalyst to drive the regeneration of Morecambe and transform the local and wider north-west regional economy. We will want to have school visits coming to Morecambe to see the Eden centre, but by law you can only put a child in a car or a bus for two hours. If the Eden centre is in Morecambe, we will have a catchment area going from Manchester to Glasgow to York, as it would be quite central. Therefore, we would have an educational attraction that would benefit future generations and all generations coming along for the unique eco-tourism of the area. Since opening in 2001, the Cornwall Eden project has contributed £2 billion to the local economy of Devon and Cornwall—that is a huge local investment. As I have said, Eden north is an exemplar seaside town regeneration project for not just Morecambe, but the north-west; it will help out other coastal communities, leading the way for new projects.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)

From looking at the plans, it seems as though the Eden project north will be substantially better than the Eden project south; obviously, it will be much more modern, as 18-plus years have passed. I swam in that lido, so may I ask whether there will be a swimming pool at the Eden project for people such as me to go to?

David Morris

That is a lovely thought and I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.

Bob Stewart

Is that a no?

David Morris

I cannot say, but we will put the plans forward to Eden for my hon. Friend.

Eden north is compatible with, directly supports and is coherent with the recommendations made by the House of Lords Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities, which was published on 4 April 2019 and so is extremely recent. Eden will be ​a high-quality, year-round attraction and wet-weather destination. It will be a crowd-puller that engages all ages and all generations, as my hon. Friend alluded to.

Bob Stewart

I was young then.

David Morris

He was young when he swam there.

Bob Stewart

I am not old.

David Morris

He is still a young man at heart; I know him very well and he is my good friend.

Importantly, market analysis has identified a catchment of 10.6 million people within two hours, as I have alluded to. This will support a visitor attraction where 760,000 people go to the project annually, with consequent direct and indirect economic benefits. It is a financially sustainable revenue-generating social enterprise that is an employment anchor for the region, with 518 long-term, direct and indirect jobs, helping unemployment in Morecambe to go down even further. It is a long-term project with a long-term value, and it is the economic answer to the £130-million investment from central Government on the M6 link road.

Eden will be a mixture of tourism and education to engage the public so that they feel a part of nature, not apart from nature. In particular, it will bring in a focus on the life and wildlife in the bay. Eden north will celebrate the unique scientific ecosystem of Morecambe bay. Eden in Morecambe will be an icon of health and wellbeing, and of regional culture—a natural wonder and curiosity. As my hon. Friend said, the proposals make the Eden centre look very impressive indeed: like glass mussel shells overturned and spreading out into the bay. It will be phenomenal and will create activities and facilities that will increase the understanding of Morecambe bay as an internationally significant site. It will bring back to Morecambe tourism the prestige that it richly deserves.

Eden will also bring with it an education offer that directly supports a place-based curriculum, in close partnership with all levels of education. A high degree of commitment has already been secured from educational professionals in Lancashire for a long-term education vision. Eden went to Lancaster University with this proposal nearly a decade ago, and here we are talking about it in the House of Commons. It is an accolade for Lancaster University as well as the Eden Project. The college has already struck a memorandum of understanding to provide educational facilities for future generations of the workforce, so that Eden will be equipped. I believe that will lead to the Aberdeen effect: our youngsters in Morecambe will be able to go to the Eden centres that are springing up all around the world, such as in China and America, as well as the one in Cornwall. The integration of research facilities and activities and the pioneering model of partnership between the community and academia can only be a good thing in my area, because we are moving from the old form of tourism into high-tech industries, as well as into a low-carbon economy with the power stations, and there is an eco-friendly jobs boost in the area.

At this stage of development, it is estimated that the proposal will cost circa £85 million to build, and £1 million has already been committed by four commissioning partners, with equal parts of around £250,000 each from Lancaster City Council, Lancashire County Council, Lancashire local enterprise partnership and Lancaster ​University. Of course, there is also the £100,000 coming directly from the Treasury. The work carried out by the Eden Project to date has been commissioned by Lancaster University, and has been supported by the Chancellor, Lancaster City Council and all the other partners I just mentioned.

As I alluded to earlier, the site will be located in a site of international environmental importance. Morecambe bay is designated as a Ramsar site, as it is the largest continuous inter-tidal area in Britain. It is also an area of special conservation and is in a special protected area.

My community needs Eden. This is a game-changer for us: it will make Morecambe the envy not only of the north-west but of all seaside resorts in the United Kingdom. I have already mentioned the prosperity that it would bring. Although we have had a lot of central Government money, we need more—around £40 million to £60 million. I know that it is a big ask in a time of austerity, but we have already had hundreds of millions from the Government, in a time of austerity, to produce an economic turnaround in Morecambe that is unrivalled in the north of England. I would like to see the money come from Treasury salami slicing. Ideally, it would come directly from the Treasury, although I am not sure that the Chancellor would see eye-to-eye with me on that. I thank him, though, for the £100,000 that he personally allocated to the project. The money could come from the budgets for the environment, education, communities, transport—from across the whole Whitehall sphere.

My constituency is beautiful—as the House knows, I am very proud of it. Morecambe is on the up, and has been for the past 10 years. Regeneration by this Government has fuelled a lot of miracles in Morecambe, but I am here in the Chamber looking for help. Help me to help my community, which deserves this. Help me to secure the jewel of prosperity that is Eden, to be fitted rightly back into the crown of the north-west that is my beautiful constituency, and my home: Morecambe.