£82m, 30m high aerial tramway vision would link Eden Project North to Lancaster University and M6

View of the Lancaster skyline taken from the Norman Keep in Lancaster Castle.
View of the Lancaster skyline taken from the Norman Keep in Lancaster Castle.
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Proposals for an £82m aerial tramway project linking Lancaster, Morecambe and the university have been drawn up by the man behind the initial plans for Eden Project North.

Standing at more than 30m high, the Aerial Tramway System would link the proposed Eden Project North, the Bay Gateway, Lancaster Railway Station, the University of Cumbria’s Lancaster campus, Lancaster University and junction 33 of the M6 motorway.

Ian Hughes in front of the former Dome site in Morecambe

Ian Hughes in front of the former Dome site in Morecambe

Ian Hughes, who was the brains behind the initial idea of an Eden Project attraction in Morecambe, has published a document outlining how the “radical” system could transport people around the district, as well as preventing 2.3m car journeys per year and creating a further major visitor attraction in the area.

Mr Hughes’ company Oakstone Environmental Consulting has produced a concept/justification document for an “Aerial Tramway Mass Transit System”, which would include a total of 30 cabins, each with 35 seats, capable of carrying 2,000 people per hour at an average cost of £6 per ticket.

Mr Hughes estimates the total build cost would be £82m, which includes 30km of cables, six stations, design and construction and land acquisition.

He estimates that income per year, even at 25 per cent capacity, would be £19m, and £10.8m per year minus operating costs, with a seven-year payback period for the initial investment.

He said: “Morecambe is a seaside resort on steroids right now, the long dark days of decline are waning with an attraction of international importance on the horizon, possibly open as soon as 2022. The forecast for Eden Project North is for a minimum of 500,000 extra visitors a year, this is considered conservative, it could be up to double this number. Furthermore, Eden will undoubtedly attract more inward investment, so we can expect more attractions, more to do and more reasons for people to come here.”

The report identifies certain issues with the project, such as wind speed, reliability, pylons and power cables on the route, and people’s privacy as the cable cars pass over their homes and gardens. Each of the issues is dealt with in the report.

Ian added: “What is offered here is a sustainable, environmentally-friendly solution that will allow for significant socio-economic growth in the Lancaster District into the future.

“An Aerial Tramway Mass Transit System will alleviate the inevitable increasing traffic that comes with the level of inward investment that is heading our way. It is entirely counterproductive to embrace this growth without preventing a situation that impedes the benefits through restricted movement around the area – domestic and commercial. 
When the prospect of an Eden Project North was first proferred there was a large degree of scepticism from some quarters that it could ever happen here, but it is. This concept is no different, it is BIG and it is BOLD, but it is entirely feasible in our view, and eminently desirable.”

An artist's impression of Eden Project North, a proposed new attraction for Morecambe . Credit: Grimshaw Architects

An artist's impression of Eden Project North, a proposed new attraction for Morecambe . Credit: Grimshaw Architects

The report goes on to say: “Award winning Morecambe Carnival attracts 55,000 people over an August weekend, Vintage by the Sea a further 40,000 in September plus there are other quality events every weekend throughout the summer attracting thousands of visitors.

Bay Gateway: With a park and ride car park capable of taking several hundred cars straight off the new main artery into the area from the M6, this will soak up many of the vehicles coming here without clogging up the roads in Morecambe. It would also facilitate people coming to visit Lancaster. The road is already set up for this with a junction, dedicated lane and traffic lights to filter cars over to the new station. This station is also very close to Lancaster and Morecambe College.

Lancaster Train Station: There is no easy way of having a station directly in the city centre, but there is already an established bus shuttle service and taxi rank at Castle Station. Having an aerial tramway link here, along with so many extra visitors coming, is another compelling reason to keep Lancaster as one of the West Coast Railway’s main stops. It is also close to the enormously important Castle potentially attracting many more tourists there and would be signposted prominently.

There are numerous residents who either work in Lancaster or Morecambe that commute and who could use the tramway, taking more vehicles off the road and

costing them much less.

Then there is the shopping, of course, with Lancaster the midway station it can deliver people from either direction into the centre.

Last, but not least are the many students from both universities living in Lancaster who could commute quickly, easily and cheaply between campus and home.

University of Cumbria: Quite apart from the 3,000 students plus staff and the many people living in the Bowerham area who could all utilise the tramway, the suggested location for the station at the back of the campus is very close to Williamson and Lancaster Leisure Parks, both of which host many events, some very large.

Lancaster University: The University was integral to bringing Eden to Morecambe and will continue as a partner delivering academic courses linked with the Eden ethos. For students and academics to travel to what would in effect be a satellite ‘campus’ in half an hour will be highly beneficial.

There are 12,000 students and almost 3,000 staff at LU many of whom live in Lancaster and Morecambe.

Remodelled J33: The planned remodelling of M6 J33 offers an ideal opportunity for an ATS station with a park and ride facility, along with the option for bus and cycle travel. Cycle hire could be facilitated at each of the cableway stations and the cabins proposed will take cycles and their riders.

The next (new) section looks at stations for Lancaster University and J33 in more detail and more particularly the entire South Lancaster Transport requirements.

In the scheme of things, based on the estimations of cost herein, (subject to professional scrutiny) this is not an expensive project and one with very high potential returns in a short time-frame. We believe that this would be an attractive proposition for suitable investors or a public/private partnership.

An aerial tramway offers affordable and efficient travel for residents and visitors alike, it delivers people to work and play in the locations where things are happening, where they want or need to be. These systems are amongst the safest modes of any transport.

A case for practicality is largely made here, but there is also a hugely important case to be made in terms of our landscape and the glorious vistas - near and far - that would be appreciated from such an elevated and extended viewpoint, changing all the time as you move along. The heritage of the City with the Castle and Priory and the wonderful Georgian architecture, the Lune extending into the distance in both directions, the Cumbrian mountains across the extraordinarily beautiful Bay, the Howgills and Ingleborough, the Forest of Bowland and the spectacular form of Eden Project North as it hoves into view, reminiscent of a cluster of mussel shells. Daytime and nightime the experience would be sublime. Who would not wish to take the ‘Sunset Special’ round trip now and then, perhaps with a complimentary glass of champagne to toast the view?

Please take the time to ponder the possibilities, dare to think ‘what if!’ and let ‘Lancaster District Ltd’ blaze a trail for others to follow.

Another of the first things people say when an Aerial Tramway System is mentioned is “what about the wind?” This is largely due to most peoples’ experiences of basic cableways when they have been skiing. The fact is that “maximum acceptable wind speeds vary from 70 to 110 km/h (43.5 to 68.4 mph) depending on the technology used.

Bicable and tricable systems [proposed] are more resistant to wind speed” (Clément-Werny et al, 2011)*

According to the Beaufort Scale 37 Knots = 68.4 km/h (42.5 mph) = ‘GALE’ and 52 Knots = 96.6 km/h (60 mph) = ‘STORM’.

On these figures compared to the past decade of wind data (below) (WWO, 2019) at no time since 2009 would the system have been stopped from running due to maximum wind speeds or gusts.

This compares very favourably to ferries that often cease sailing in storms and some bridges that are closed to traffic. There is no need to worry about the wrong kind of snow or leaves on the line, and flooding would not be an issue either.

In comparison with other modes of transport, therefore, an Aerial Tramway, such as that which we are proposing, ranks very highly for reliability.