Eden Project celebrates its millionth visitor to the biodomes

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The world's biggest greenhouse, the Eden Project, celebrated its millionth visitor yesterday three months after its official opening.

Predictions at the time estimated a maximum of 750,000 visitors a year would pass through its gates. Since March it has attracted 500,000 and, with the 500,000 who went to the site last year to watch it being built, the number of visitors has now passed the million mark.

Unlike Britain's previous biggest tourist attractions, Alton Towers and Madame Tussaud's, the re-creation of the planet's different climates in a former clay pit near St Austell in Cornwall has succeeded without the lure of thrilling rides or celebrity cachet. Costing £86m ­ compared with the Millennium Dome's £758m ­ the project, half-funded by the Millennium Commission, features "biodomes", which total the size of 35 football pitches and contain 12,000 plants.

On its first day, queues formed from 4.30am onwards, and 7,000 had passed through the gates by lunchtime, despite fears that people would stay away because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, which was well under way at the time.

"We were expecting it to be popular," a spokesman for the Eden Project said yesterday. "But not this much."

The figures make an interesting comparison with the Millennium Dome, which was predicted to attract 10 million during the year 2000, but drew only 1.47 million in its first three months and closed well short of the target.

The Moignard family were named as the "millionth" visitor. Andy and Jenny Moignard and their 22-month-old daughter, Fiona, had travelled from St Albans in Hertfordshire to see the greenhouse project. It costs £9.50 for adults and £4 for children, with a family ticket priced at £22.

Mr Moignard said: "After hearing so much about Eden in the papers and on television, and hearing about it from my mother who has been several times, we've been really looking forward to our visit and have come down especially." Latest calculations by the British Tourism Authority show that the most popular visitor paying attraction in 1999 was Alton Towers, which drew in 2.65 million people during the year, followed by Madame Tussaud's with 2.64 million.

A spokeswoman for the authority said: "The figures for 2000 could change considerably, with the London Eye and the Dome, and Eden will change them again in 2001."