Environmental schemes based on Eden Project on hold due to scarce funding

Eden Project-style schemes across Britain have been shelved because of difficulties obtaining funding.

But overseas schemes to copy the Cornwall visitor attraction's concept are on track as Eden Project director Tim Smit looks to develop the biome-based visitor attraction idea in countries that are more cash-rich than the UK.

Rainforest Ventures, founded by one of Eden's original designers Robin Lock, was to develop a £45m Eden-style tropical rainforest visitor attraction and themed hotel near Bridgend in South Wales. The Borneo Rainforest project would have been a 9,290sq m structure, housing plant species from the Indonesian Malay Archipelago.

But Lock said: "The market is interested but the capital to do this is at an all-time low."

The Welsh development was to be sited alongside film and television studios that were to have been built by Dragon Studios, chaired by Lord Richard Attenborough. The Welsh Assembly Government indicated support for the proposal but the £330m studio scheme hit financial troubles in November, leading to the abandonment of the visitor attraction idea.

A similar £70m scheme for Blackpool is also on hold because of lack of investment. The scheme was supported by Blackpool Council but temporarily rejected when the Lancashire town became favourite for a government super casino licence, which Manchester later won before it was abandoned in 2007.

A Blackpool Council representative said: "We were having initial discussions with Rainforest Ventures but nothing has happened of late."

Lock, who previously worked as Eden's tropics biome developer and curator, added: "The council wanted to go ahead but the councillors postponed or temporarily rejected it as they believed in the super casino. As the central government hasn't made a final decision and court cases are on the way, the councillors haven't changed their priority yet.

"At the moment, England is the last place of focus. We are in further process with a scheme in Belgium and a few other places. We will not give up yet - the idea is still of the 21st century."

Meanwhile, all is quiet on plans for a £586m Eden Project-style biotope sanctuary for fish, amphibians and reptiles in Bedfordshire, which the National Institute for Research into Aquatic Habitats (NIRAH) hopes to build by 2012. If it is built, it will be four times the size of Eden, with tropical rainforest exhibits, two hotels, a water park, theatres, cinemas and shops.

A NIRAH representative said: "There is nothing major to report. NIRAH's financial advisers are handling the seed capital raise and an update will be posted on the NIRAH website in due course."

Chairman Keith Edelmann, the former Arsenal FC managing director, has been pitching the project to potential investors but none is known to have signed up.

The Eden Project itself has shelved a £50m plan to build The Edge, a third biome tackling desert and water use, which came last of four in a bid to win £50m funding from the lottery's People's Millions awards in December 2007.

Representative David Rowe said Eden was continuing its work on water security and climate change, but added: "We're not building the Edge at present. The idea behind The Edge as a single building will have to be revisited."

While Rowe said it is not a good time to get funding, Smit is in talks with several countries that have approached him to build their own Eden Projects.

Rowe said: "If it were to be Saudi Arabia we would want an Eden Project to be populated with Saudi Arabian poetry and culture and influence, rather than a replica of Eden Project itself. We'd want it to reflect the culture and nature of that country."

Smit added: "They will have an Eden philosophy and most of their training will be done by the Eden team. We have been asked by 14 different countries over the years, and we have turned them all down. We just weren't interested.

"But with a new year comes a new way of thinking, and this year we are thinking differently. We want to build them in the style that reflects the culture where they are being built. It's not going to be like Disney World. We want the projects to be iconic in their own right."

He added: "We are already looking into building one in the Arab world. We want each one to be a unique icon."


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