Eden Project puts forward plan to expand into desert

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The Independent Online

So many people are visiting the Eden Project in Cornwall that it is bringing forward plans to create a desert zone.

So many people are visiting the Eden Project in Cornwall that it is bringing forward plans to create a desert zone.

The botanic centre, built in a former clay pit near St Austell, had been expected to attract 750,000 people in its first year but has drawn 1.5 million visitors within six months of opening in Easter this year.

The site houses a giant humid greenhouse containing a tropical rainforest, a waterfall and thousands of plants from Africa, Malaysia and South America. A second bubble-shaped "biome" represents the climate of the Mediterranean, Southern Africa and California.

Under expansion plans now being considered, a third covered biome costing £20m would represent the semi-desert climate of Arizona.

"On a sunny day we can easily cope with 10,000 people on site but, when it is raining, everyone wants to be inside the biomes and there isn't enough room," said Paul Travers, the project's media director. "We are speeding up the plans to provide better facilities for our visitors but it is still early days."

The new biome would not be designed to draw more visitors to the site, but to cope better with existing numbers. So many people visited the project over the summer that Eden took out newspaper advertisements urging tourists to stay away on rainy days and to visit at times other than the morning.

Mr Travers said there had not been many complaints about congestion and said many local people had already felt the economic benefit of the project's success. "When you have so many visitors, there are inevitably going to be a few problems," he said.

He said Eden was also looking into improving its system of warning signs, which tell people when the site is full. It is considering plans for an on-site hotel, conference suite and student accommodation. The expansion scheme is still at the earliest stage and Eden has yet to draw up detailed plans or win funding.

The accelerated expansion plans came to light during a meeting to discuss local traffic management. The meeting was told Cornwall County Council was considering ideas such as a new park-and-ride scheme to help to alleviate congestion around the site.

Eden, which was funded partly by the Millennium Commission, aims to show man's relationship with, and dependence on, plants. Figures show that Eden is the fourth most popular paid-for attraction in the country and has attracted up to 14,000 people in one day.

A spokeswoman for Eden said plans for the latest biosphere were in their infancy. "The news only came out because plans to ease traffic congestion were being discussed by the county council," she said. "They must still get the approval of the planning authority and we wouldn't want to pre-empt that."