Lottery project architect sues for £5.5m

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The Independent Online

A co-founder of the £80m Eden Project to build two vast dome-like greenhouses in Cornwall is suing his former partners for £5.5m after they allegedly "airbrushed" him out of the project.

A co-founder of the £80m Eden Project to build two vast dome-like greenhouses in Cornwall is suing his former partners for £5.5m after they allegedly "airbrushed" him out of the project.

Jonathan Ball, an architect from Bude, Cornwall, who helped set up the innovative scheme in 1994, has lodged a writ at the High Court in London claiming the charity owes him £4m to cover his lost future share earnings and £1.5m for his share of the future value of the project's intellectual property rights.

Mr Ball has accused the trustees of the charity that owns the site and the Eden Project Ltd, which actually runs the attraction, of deliberately sidelining him and failing to repay up to £650,000 for his time and expenses in helping set up the project.

His court action is the latest twist in his long-running dispute over his role with the Eden Project and his Swedish-born co-founder, Tim Smit, the project's chief executive.

Mr Ball said that he was eased out in a coup orchestrated by his former colleagues. His allegations, which are being contested by the project's trustees, have plunged one of Britain's most successful and ground-breaking millennium projects into unwelcome controversy.

The Eden Project, given £42m by the Millennium Commission, is building two huge "biome" greenhouses close to St Austell. One, which is 55 metres high and 200 metres long, will be dedicated to growing humid tropical plants. The second biome, 35 metres high and 135 metres long, will grow warm temperate plants.

Although it is not due to open fully until next Easter, its visitor centre had by the end of September already outstripped its targets by 70 per cent, attracting 366,703 visitors since last March.

Mr Ball, a former honorary vice president of the Royal Institute of British Artists, co-founded with Mr Smit the company that set up the project. He found the architect who designed the biomes and played a pivotal role in raising its lottery funding and as an "ambassador" for the project.

Instead of being made a paid director and being fully repaid for his time and efforts, as originally agreed, he was only given £233,000, excluding VAT and interest, for some costs.

In contrast, Mr Smit became a director paid £60,000 a year. The trust also bought Mr Smit's nurseries that are supplying the Eden Project's plants for £425,000, having already paid £2,000 a month in rent for the nurseries.

His allegations are rejected by the project's trustees, who said they had tried but failed to reach an agreed settlement with him. Sources at the project insisted that his claim ignores the crucial fact that it is a charitable trust that puts all its profits back into the project. The company shares are not traded.

They also insisted that Mr Smit's directorship and the sale of his nursery was agreed fully by the trust and its auditors. The trustees are also furious that Mr Ball, allegedly without agreement, registered the trademark for the Eden Project in his own name, and is now trying to sell it back to the trust.

Mr Ball is adamant he has been wronged. "As the Cornishman behind a fantastic Cornish project, I pledged my family home, the assets and resources of my practice at great personal cost, with total risk. There was no parachute if the Millennium Commission said no," he said yesterday.

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