The seaside town they refused to close down

Is the coastal town of Morecambe on the edge of transformation and what does the latest round of funding mean for Eden Project Morecambe?

Hero image

The word “funding” is more usually associated with cuts these days but when the second round of the government’s Levelling Up Fund was announced in January it promised £50 million for the Eden Project Morecambe. It brings the ambitious attraction for the coastal town a step closer.

“The project will have an immense economic, social and environmental impact on the county.”

Eden Project North will be built on a derelict location on the town’s central promenade. It promises huge sea-facing pavilions with “immersive” experiences and exhibitions. Above the Bay will be devoted to horticulture, Below the Bay will explore lunar rhythms and tides, and the Natural Observatory will be a research and education hub. There will also be art, entertainment, food and retail space.

It is being developed by the same team behind Cornwall’s Eden Project, which opened its domes back in 2001, alongside Lancaster University, Lancaster City Council, Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership. A change of name from Eden Project North is seen as symbolically important.

“It presents a once in a generation opportunity to reinvent and rejuvenate Morecambe into a 21st-century seaside resort,” says Caroline Jackson, leader of Lancaster City Council, which led the funding bid.

“In the Lancaster district, we are celebrating the way a uniquely local vision has been turned into an exciting reality. I’m particularly delighted with the new name, Eden Project Morecambe, which confirms its place at the very heart of our community. The town is once more very firmly on the map.”

Although the government funding is only half of the £100 million that will ultimately be needed to complete the project (the remaining £50 million is expected to be met through “private and philanthropic sources”), it allows for groundwork to begin this year ahead of a 2026 opening.

Eden Project Morecambe says it could draw in the region of 740,000 annual visitors, create around 300 direct roles and a further 1,000 additional new jobs in the region.

“The project will have an immense economic, social and environmental impact on the county,” says Debbie Francis, chair of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, which contributed £1.2m from its Growth Deal Programme to aid the scheme.

“Eden is an international brand which will not only attract visitors to the area, but will create significant job opportunities directly and indirectly in our local supply chains, stimulating growth in some of our key sectors, as well as enhancing our already significant environmental research expertise.”

Whether these projected figures prove right remains to be seen, but it is encouraging to know that Eden Cornwall, built in a former clay pit near St Austell, has generated more than £2 billion for the regional economy since opening two decades ago. So it is a huge boost for the region’s residents and business owners who have felt frustrated by the lack of interest and investment over the years, not only in Morecambe itself but throughout the Bay area.

Morecambe was once a go-to destination but like many coastal resorts its popularity as a holiday destination declined as foreign holidays became more accessible and British holidaymakers eschewed the UK’s seaside towns for sunnier shores.

Poverty and unemployment grew and formerly grand buildings now lie in a state of disrepair. But it’s not only Eden Project Morecambe that has thrust the spotlight on the town in recent years. It is also the backdrop for ITV’s crime drama The Bay*, back on screens for its fourth series.

“A few years ago, I came across a map of the UK made up of the titles of TV shows,” says The Bay’s co-creator and writer Daragh Carville.  “It seemed like every corner of the UK had its TV shows, except one, which happened to be the corner of the UK where I lived, Morecambe Bay. I became determined there and then to write a show that would put the place on the map.

“In terms of issues and geography, I think there are two things that make Morecambe the ideal setting for our show. On the one hand it’s a beautiful place, both in terms of its scenery – including the stunning sunsets over the Bay – and its built environment, with handsome buildings like the Midland Hotel and the Winter Gardens. But on the other hand, because of the real deprivation the town has suffered from in recent years, it also has a toughness about it, a gritty edge. That combination of beauty and grit contributes a lot to the tone of the show.

Midland Hotel
The Midland Hotel and main image Eden Project Morecambe

“The thing about Morecambe is that it has a kind of faded grandeur. When you walk around the town you can still see the signs of its heyday as a holiday resort. Although there’s real poverty and deprivation in Morecambe, there is also a great deal of pride in the community. I like the sense of Morecambe as a place on the edge: on the edge of the UK, on the edge of Europe, on the edge of the sea – and on the edge in lots of other ways too. And I’m clearly not the only one to have noticed its potential.”

Although “thrilled” that Eden Project Morecambe is coming closer to fruition, Carville hopes its impact isn’t too radical.

“While I expect the project to be transformational, I hope in a way it doesn’t change the place too much. I hope it’s not an exercise in gentrification, one that forces local people out. But everything I’ve heard from the organisers suggest they’re committed to making sure the community is at the heart of the project,” he says.

“I have absolutely no faith in this government or in their so-called levelling up agenda, but I do have faith in the people behind the Eden Project. And most of all I have faith in the people of Morecambe. Obviously, there will still be challenges and the Eden Project in itself won’t solve everything, but I can’t wait to see how the town –and the Bay more widely – is going to develop in the years to come.

“My hope is the Eden Project will enable other places, like the Winter Gardens and the Grange Lido, both of which have been kept alive by the tireless work of community volunteers for many years, to flourish in the 21st century.”

Across the Bay from Morecambe, Grange Lido in Grange-over-Sands is the only surviving seaside lido in the North West.

Volunteers at Save Grange Lido hope to benefit from the opening of Eden Project Morecambe. Main contractors go on site later this month to begin its restoration. Although it won’t initially be available for swimming, that remains a possibility in the future.

“The area has lacked investment in large visionary projects for many years, but things are looking up for those living and working around the Bay,” maintains David Dawson, secretary of Save Grange Lido. “The new Eden Project will kickstart a transformation across the Bay area, welcoming visitors who will want to maximise their trip by exploring the whole Bay area.

“Key projects such as the Earnse Bay hub on Walney Island, and of course Grange Lido will create a cross-Bay offering, which will bring enormous benefits to the area, not only in economic terms but also in health and well-being.”

He says Save Grange Lido has been working with members of Eden Project Morecambe for a number of years.

“There is great synergy between the two projects. Eden is being constructed on the site of the former Super Swimming Stadium in Morecambe, and the Art Deco heritage of the region is reinforced by Eden’s proximity to the Midland Hotel and Winter Gardens,” he says.

“Eden’s proposed half-day visiting offer gives an opportunity to visitors to spend the morning in Eden and then travel to Grange for a leisurely afternoon soaking up the sun. There is a possibility of joint ticketing for the two attractions. Add in the proposed cycle way across the Bay from Arnside to Grange, and you can see the huge potential.”

Andy Lemm, general manager of the Midland Hotel, which will sit adjacent to Eden Project Morecambe, is unsurprisingly enthused by the attraction’s potential.

“Morecambe has always been seen as Blackpool’s poor relation due to a lack of opportunities for well-paid skilled work and, more importantly, a lack of investment in ensuring that this Victorian seaside resort has enough attractions to attract visitors and therefore a reason for companies to invest,” he says.

“My main concern is that everything required to deliver an exceptional experience for people visiting the Eden Project is in place by the time it opens, so pavements, parking, enough hotel bedrooms. But it is an absolute game-changer. It will revitalise the entire area and create a reason for people to visit – and stay here.”

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to The seaside town they refused to close down

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.