AMBITIOUS plans have been unveiled for an £85million Jurassic Coast visitor attraction on Portland to rival the Eden Project.

The ‘Jurassica’ vision, which has the backing of Sir David Attenborough and Eden Project supremo Sir Tim Smit, is to build a subterranean geological park in the former Yeolands quarry on the east side of the island.

Showcasing hundreds of world-class paleontological remains including dinosaurs, marine reptiles, marine invertebrates and plants, the park would be covered with a translucent roof. The site, which would include an aquarium, is being described as about a third of the size of the Millennium Dome.

It is being inspired by the Eden Project, which was built in an old clay pit in Cornwall and has become one of the UK’s most popular attractions. Portland is being seen as ideal site at the centre of the Jurassic Coast, England’s first natural World Heritage Site.

Jurassica is the brainchild of science journalist Michael Hanlon, who grew up in Dorset and searched for fossils on the coast.

Mr Hanlon said: “Jurassica aims to be a spectacular world-class visitor attraction, designed by architect Renzo Piano and supported by patron Sir David Attenborough and trustee Sir Tim Smit.

“It aims to be an educational and heritage-focussed charitable trust and would act as a hub for the Jurassic Coast UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“I’m aware it is a very big and ambitious project. It would cost £85million to £90million to create and would employ 200 people; more in the building stages.

“We’re looking for funding and are hoping for significant private investment – we’re speaking to potential investors at the moment and are applying for Heritage Lottery funding.

“I believe this will be the most important economic development in West Dorset since the 2012 Olympics, and will raise the profile of Weymouth and Portland on a long-term basis.”

Mr Hanlon said the site will be covered with a ‘unique, lightweight translucent roof, much like a spider web, that will be almost invisible from outside.’ Tony Williams, chairman of Wessex Entrepeneurs – promotional partner for Jurassica – said the site could be ‘Dorset’s own Eden Project’ if successful.

  • Mr Hanlon will explain how local businesses and organisations can be involved in the project at a dinner hosted by Wessex Entrepeneurs on December 2 from 6.30pm at the East Cliff Court Hotel, Bournemouth.
  • Portland historian Stuart Morris said: “I’m very impressed by this plan. The man whose plan it is seems to have some very high level connections.

“I’ve often thought there’s a criminal waste of our landscape on Portland. We lost the original landscape and we’re left with giant holes so we may as well do something interesting with them.

“Something to highlight the geology is a great idea.

“There may be concerns about the extra traffic it generates on Portland but you have to allow something that will be a big attraction. This is the future for this area.”

He added: “The plan is very ambitious but that’s how you start on things like this. It’s Portland’s Eden.”