Cornwall welcomes greenhouse effect of Eden Project

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The Independent Online

Rarely have the words "near Eden" been more of a godsend. While much of British tourism labours under the legacy of foot-and-mouth, Cornwall is enjoying a mini-boom in its own corner of paradise.

Rarely have the words "near Eden" been more of a godsend. While much of British tourism labours under the legacy of foot-and-mouth, Cornwall is enjoying a mini-boom in its own corner of paradise.

The £86m Eden Project, the three giant bio-domes built into a disused clay pit near St Austell, this week welcomed its 900,000th visitor since opening to critical acclaim in March.

But while the popularity of the attraction itself has spread far and wide – it is now so busy on rainy days that it asks people to stay away – a windfall for the local economy has gone almost unnoticed.

For those who can claim to be within an eco-friendly bus ride of the hi-tech domes and their 12,000 plants, Eden is proving to be worth nearly £40m a year in extra business.

The resort of Fowey, five miles away, has seen a six-fold increase in cruise ships using its docking facilities so American passengers can worship at the cathedral of ecology. Hotels and guest houses in the area are so over-booked for the summer's peak that visitors are having to sleep in their cars.

Cornwall Enterprise, the local economic development agency, estimates that traffic coming into the county has increased by 8 per cent in the last year. And all this due to a few greenhouses.

The cruel irony is not lost on tourism chiefs that just a few miles away in Devon, recently reopened Dartmoor is struggling to attract lost visitors after the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Teresa Timms, marketing executive at Cornwall Enterprise, said: "There can be no doubt that the Eden Project is largely responsible for helping Cornwall to weather the crisis caused by foot-and-mouth.

"Anecdotally, we can see that it has brought considerable benefits to the local economy in terms of daytrippers but also people staying in the county over a broader period of the year.

"Cornwall, more than most other tourist destinations, suffers from seasonality – it is very busy in the summer but dead in the winter. The Eden Project helps to draw people all year round – it is vital."

Cornwall attracts around 4.1 million visitors a year, bringing trade worth around £800m. It is estimated that the Eden Project will add £36m – a figure described by some tourism chiefs as "conservative".

The impact of the Eden Project stretches as far as Newquay and St Ives – 30 miles away.

Newquay, enjoying a renaissance as Britain's surf capital, is also proving a popular staging post for Eden visitors. With a capacity for 120,000 guests at any one time, Newquay is being widely used by tour operators for "short breaks" to the project. And St Ives is also reporting an increase in visitors.

Dubbed "the Millennium Project that worked" (unlike its Dome cousin in London), even the Eden Project's owners, led by record producer-turned-horticulturalist Tim Smit, have been taken aback by its runaway success.

Since opening on 17 March, it has welcomed 900,000 people (on top of the 500,000 who went before it was even open) – exceeding in just four months its full-year projection of 750,000 visitors. The company has had to build extra car parks to accommodate the 9,000-10,000 visitors a day and recently achieved the rare luxury of asking people to stay away, taking out adverts advising people not to visit at peak periods such as rainy days.

Nowhere has its influence been more strongly felt than Fowey, where the local tourist information office has seen a 96 per cent increase in the accommodation bookings. The town's 1,000 hotel and bed and breakfast beds are almost always full.

The port so far this year has had visits from 12 cruise ships – up from the two or three it normally gets a year. A marketing official has been employed by the town to boost the figure to 50 – two a day in high season.

Lynn Gould, manager of Fowey Tourist Information Office, said: "For the first time I can remember, we had a couple the other day who had spent the night in the car after arriving with nowhere to stay.

"Accommodation tends to be absolutely jam-packed at the moment and it is almost entirely due to the Eden Project. People have to get into the habit of booking in advance."

There is little relief in sight for visitors. Despite the employment last year of a specialist hotel consultancy by an unnamed chain to explore the feasibility of a large hotel in the area, no plans have been laid with the local council.

Local estate agents have reported a significant growth in interest in properties for conversion to guest houses and B&Bs but house prices have remained stable.

The Eden Project itself has expressed a theoretical interest in providing accommodation but a spokeswoman said yesterday that no firm proposals have been made.

One Cornish tourism official said: "We're almost victims of our own success. We need to improve the availability of accommodation or people will be put off."

Elsewhere some of those neighbouring the Eden Project were yesterday unmoved by the profits to be made from the lure of an indoor, steaming tropical garden. Melville Grigg, landlord of the Four Lords pub in St Blazey Gate, less than a mile from the "biomes" and their overflowing car parks, said: "Almost everyone drives past our village. We get the odd person for B&B but to be honest I'm not too bothered.

"I would far rather things stayed as they are."

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