Eden Project expands to cope with numbers

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The Independent Online

The Eden Project announced plans yesterday to add a third dome to the hugely popular Cornish tourist attraction in a £100m expansion.

The Eden Project announced plans yesterday to add a third dome to the hugely popular Cornish tourist attraction in a £100m expansion.

But in an unusual move in a tourism industry where extra profits come from increased visitor numbers, executives at the eco-cathedral near St Austell said they were not seeking to boost visitor numbers.

Managers of the futuristic greenhouses, which house 12,000 plants in two giant plastic "biomes" in a disused clay pit, said they needed the extra space to cope with their two million visitors a year.

The third dome, which will house a dry tropics zone that recreates the climate in a sub-Saharan country such as Sudan, is scheduled to open in two years.

The popularity of the centre – which exceeded its expected annual visitor number within four months of opening – has caused concern among environmentalists, some of whom say it has become a victim of its own success.

Despite providing a windfall for the Cornish economy, estimated at £155m in its first year, protest groups claim the project has created its own environmental cost in the form of increased traffic on roads to the attraction.

Initial projections for the centre when it opened in March 2001 said that it would attract about 750,000 visitors a year, a gross underestimate, the project's managers confirmed yesterday.

Gaynor Coley, the managing director, said: "Our aim is to maintain, not augment our two million visitors per year. If you come here on a busy day and you see the capacity bursting at the seams, you would agree that we need more covered space on the site. This will build us double that capacity." The centre, which had to build extra car parks to accommodate visitors and has turned people away at peak periods, said that it would not engage in a sales push once the extra dome had been built. A spokeswoman said: "This is about providing a comfortable and enjoyable experience for those we already have."

The new dome, dubbed the arid zone, formed part of the original proposal but the funding was not available. It was not clear yesterday whether it would require further planning permission.

The project has been widely praised by tourism chiefs in surrounding towns, including nearby Fowey, and Newquay, and in St Ives, 30 miles away, for bringing in business outside the summer season.

But environmentalists complain that not enough has been done to minimise the impact of car use. It is estimated that traffic coming into Cornwall increased by 8 per cent last year. A spokesman for Friends of the Earth said: "There is a real issue about traffic and the need for extra parking. We would want to see serious investment not only in a new dome but in the infrastructure to cope with it."

The Eden Project said it was working with coach and rail operators and the sustainable transport body Sustrans to improve access to the site.

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