‘JURASSICA will never be Dorset’s £85million white elephant’.
That’s the latest from science journalist Michael Hanlon, the brainchild behind an ambitious Jurassic Coast visitor attraction on Portland to rival the Eden Project.
The Jurassica vision, which also has the backing of Sir David Attenborough and Eden Project supremo Sir Tim Smit, is to build an £85million subterranean geological park in the former Yeolands quarry on the east side of the island.
A ‘white elephant’ refers to a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.
Mr Hanlon told the Echo that Jurassica will always have his full support and aims to raise the profile of Weymouth and Portland on a long-term basis, therefore never becoming a white elephant for the region.
West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin, together with more than 50 people, attended a follow up dinner on the project in Bournemouth on February 28.
Members of the Local Enterprise Partnership for Dorset, including director Lorna Gibbons and deputy chairman Philip Warr, also attended.
Mr Letwin told the Echo: "Jurassica sounds fantastic, enormously interesting, beautiful and built to last. It’s also possibly transformative for our tourism industry in the way that the Eden project has been for Cornwall."
Showcasing world-class paleontological remains including dinosaurs, marine reptiles and plants, the park would be covered with a translucent ‘spider web’ roof.
Jurassica has also been welcomed by South Dorset MP Richard Drax.
He said: “I welcome any investment in Portland and Weymouth, especially one that is going to bring local jobs and encourage tourism.
“A lot of money has to be raised for this project to work and I know the team behind Jurassica still have a long way to go, but I wish them all the best.”
A Heritage Lottery Funding application for Jurassica is set to be submitted in November.
Mr Hanlon, who grew up in Dorset and searched for fossils on the coast, said: “Jurassica is not a get rich quick scheme, it’s a professional education resource for Dorset.
“It also aims to revive the park and ride scheme in Weymouth that was part of the Olympic transport system, and we’re looking for the Jurassica tourist attraction signs to start on the M3 and M27.”
Mr Hanlon also wants Jurassica to be supported by local enterprises including local engineering firms and food produce.
Construction time is estimated to be three to five years and if funding can be secured, the project aims to be open by 2019.