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Norfolk’s Pipe Dreams: How Hemsby almost had an Eden Project-style biodome

PUBLISHED: 16:00 28 September 2018 | UPDATED: 11:33 29 September 2018

Undated file photo of the exterior view of the Eden project in Cornwall. Picture: Martin Keene/PA Wire

Undated file photo of the exterior view of the Eden project in Cornwall. Picture: Martin Keene/PA Wire

Archant

The Eden of the East at Hemsby seemed like a pie-in-the-sky idea but with Cornwall’s Eden Project looking to open a version in the seaside resort of Morecambe, Liz Coates wonders if it wasn’t so daft after all?

Visual of eco-resort proposed for Hemsby.

For Stephen Pullinger.Visual of eco-resort proposed for Hemsby. For Stephen Pullinger.

It would have made for quite a landmark..

Nine years ago Hemsby was destined to be the location for an ambitious multi-million pound plan to reinvent the former Pontins site, then only newly deserted.

The serious, albeit ambitious proposal, would have seen some 800 holidaymakers enjoying year-round warmth under a sub-tropical camping dome, and taking part in eco-themed activities like canoeing and rock-climbing in another.

Hyacinths and daffodils are seen in the warm Cornish sunshine at the Eden Project, which is celebrating its 10th birthday tomorrow. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday March, 16, 2011. Photo credit should read: Ben Birchall/PA WireHyacinths and daffodils are seen in the warm Cornish sunshine at the Eden Project, which is celebrating its 10th birthday tomorrow. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday March, 16, 2011. Photo credit should read: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

In fact, had everything gone to plan, visitors would have been checking into carbon-neutral biospheres for some six years by now, leaving Tripadvisor reviews and tips to do with recycling, food waste and keeping chickens.

In Hemsby the idea was warmly received, some tagging it “brilliant” while acknowledging the bar had been set dizzyingly high.

The spectre of Pontins being still abandoned and a target for arsonists and vandals some ten years hence was a distant nightmare.

But a homes’ plan was on the horizon from the outset and heels were being bullishly dug in.

Aerial pics of the Pontins site in Hemsby. Photo: Simon CarterAerial pics of the Pontins site in Hemsby. Photo: Simon Carter

Keeping the site for tourism use and turning Hemsby into a holiday honeypot for all seasons, not just the summer, would have put the resort on the map.

And it’s still a conundrum that anyone has yet to successfully solve today, given the apparent lack of investor backing for anything other than houses.

The scheme, dubbed the Eden of the East was the brainchild of Norwich marketing guru Simon Middleton.

He had already picked up on the village’s Viking roots and was planning summer festivals with burning boats out to sea.

Mr Middleton, who had taken his eco-tourism proposal to entrepreneurs, including Duncan Bannatyne, of Dragons’ Den fame, said at the time: “I know through my involvement with the Broads Authority that sustainable tourism is not only good for the planet, it is also the way forward for tourism.

“The site currently looks tired and sad and I know its owners (Northern Trust) have several other sites left undeveloped for years and that would be a tragedy for Hemsby.

“My job is to be a catalyst. This scheme is just a starting point and the aim is to get people talking about it and thinking about it.”

While a public exhibition showcased plans to turn the land into a housing development, Mr Middleton insisted it should remain as a prime tourism site.

“There have been domes before of course, most notably at the wonderful Eden Project in Cornwall.

“But the difference with Hemsby is that the major dome would be in effect a very high quality all-year campsite, always warm, always dry, and very ecofriendly,” said Mr Middleton.

The landscaped camping dome would have accommodated about 200 campers, while there would be room for a further 600

visitors to stay in environmentally designed lodges.

A second dome would have provided a dramatic environment for recreation and eco-themed activities.

The remainder of the site would offer a mix of outdoors activities such as canoeing, rockclimbing, adventure play for children, and a large area devoted to learning skills related to sustainable living – from

eco-friendly building techniques, to raising chickens, growing foods, understanding solar power, and art using

recycled materials.

“This project would provide a fantastic base for a superb Norfolk holiday with a real difference,” said Mr Middleton.

“Hemsby itself has a magnificent sandy beach combined with a terrific characterful traditional resort. And

the village is wonderfully close to everything The Broads national park and the rest of the county has to offer

too.”

But was it all pie-in-the-sky?

The idea never really quite went away and last month it was revealed The Eden Project plans to open a version of its Cornish tourist attraction in the Lancashire seaside resort of Morecambe.

It is understood the Morecambe project would cost about £100m to launch, half of which would be government funding, with the remainder provided by private investors and philanthropists.

Maybe the Eden of the East was simply ahead of its time.

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