Executives have submitted a 20-document, 2,000-page planning application to Bedfordshire County Council.
County council deputy leader Cllr Richard Stay said: “This is a fantastic day for Bedfordshire. It will have huge benefits for Bedfordshire in terms of employment, our economic health and its place-making potential.”
The planning application will take six months to assess and will involve a number of consultations with local communities, statutory bodies such as the Highway Agency and English Nature, and the public.
Cllr Stay said: “NIRAH is the project which will put Bedfordshire back on the map. It is a unique concept – similar to the Eden project in Cornwall, but significantly bigger and more ambitious in its scope.
County Hall and the East of England Development Agency provided a loan of Â£3 million â€˜seed fundingâ€™ to enable the project to submit its business case and a planning application.
Should everything proceed according to plan, NIRAH would open its doors to the public in the second quarter of 2012.
NIRAH chairman Peter May said: “I am thrilled we have submitted the planning application. NIRAH has enormous public support in Bedfordshire – we have collected more than 12,500 signatures in support of the project.
“We are also delighted to have announced our intention to create a community trust fund to support local good causes.”
The application is expected to go before the county council’s development control committee in the spring or early summer.