Luke Hall – 2021 Speech on Eden Project North

The speech made by Luke Hall, the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, in the House of Commons on 10 February 2021.

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.