The Eden project in Cornwall was conceived by Tim Smitt in 1993. His vision for Eden was ‘to promote understanding and responsible management of the vital relationship between plant, people and resources, leading towards sustainable development’.
The project was mobilised in 1994 with a £40,000 grant from Restormell District Council with Nicolas Grimshaw acting as architect. Using the novel concept of geodesic domes made up from a grid of similar elements, either triangles or hexagons he was able to design the domes while the site was still being used as a clay pit.
Half the £106m funding came from the Millennium Commission with the remainder provided from a wide range of sources including banks, European Commission, Local Authorities, a number of charitable sources and equity partnership from the builders. The business case was based on getting 1m visitors per year. Following the poor reception for the Millennium Dome, the Millennium commission cut the funding to £74m, which triggers a significant de-scoping of the project and a cut in the expected visitors numbers to 750,000 per year. The result was a smaller car park, visitor centre and abandonment of the education centre and desert biome.
Local green campaigners and some members of the local community felt that the funding could be better invested in more schools, hospitals and that it would lead to a significant increase in traffic on local roads.
Construction started in February 1998 at risk because funding had yet to be secured and then work was stopped for two months because heavy rain made the clay pit unworkable.
By August 1998 the project was in financial crisis with significant a overspend pushing the budget to £86m; the banks, EU and charities were all ready to withdraw funding from the project. The project had to seek political support from John Prescott (minister for local and regional government) to break the log jam. In the end the banks and the Millennium Commission agreed to provide additional funding to cover the overspend.
During the build phase the site opened to so the public could see the ‘big build’. By the end of the project 500,000 people had visited the construction site.
The Eden project opened on 17th March 2000, in the first twelve months 1.8m people visited the site.