Only 229 days and counting...

It sounds insane but some of Britain's millennium projects won't be completed until 2002. Who's to blame?
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The Independent Culture
SIGHTSEEING IN Britain in 2000, with the British Tourist Authority (BTA) as a tour guide, will turn into a building-site-seeing trip. The BTA's new motoring brochure, 2000 years around Britain, explores tourist attractions old and new. It identifies the major millennial projects that have received promises of lottery money from the Millennium Commission, once match-funding is secured and a building invoice has been presented.

With the help of lottery funding from distributing bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council, Britain is building a range of cultural and leisure assets from theatres and museums to waterways and forests. A total investment of around pounds 4bn is being made. The Arts Council has been singled out by the auditors for handing out monies on schemes that had not secured match-funding. The Millennium Commission sternly refused to do the same but instead has had to extend the deadlines for buildings, which breaks with the initial reason for setting it up as a funding body. Its role as a funding body distributing lottery money is to support projects that specifically celebrate the millennium. In theory, buildings must be off the ground by the year 2000 but it has not withdrawn support for any of them, although some are still at the blueprint stage.

Instead, it has extended opening dates for projects as late as 2002 and beyond. Clearly, nobody told the BTA. But as it cheerfully records, the pounds 10m given to Bury St Edmunds to build a bell tower on the cathedral will complete a building project begun 500 years ago.

Motorists in Glasgow on the banks of the Clyde are unlikely to find the National Science Centre (opening October 2000). It isn't even a hole in the ground yet; though the architect, BDP, has a very nice model of it and it will happen, only later. The National Space Science Centre in Leicester (opening 2001) not only "looks firmly to the future" as the brochure says, it is so far in the future that it has had to park the Space Shuttle, on loan from Nasa, in rented premises to generate income while it downsizes Nick Grimshaw's grand plans.

Scaling down imaginative projects is another way of getting them off the computer screen and on to the site. Norwich turned its Technopolis (opening 2001, says the BTA) into a new library by Michael Hopkins - the old one burnt down five years ago - with IT information linking it into other IT centres.

Liverpool's National Discovery Park (opening 2000, says the BTA) is described as a "glass covered park and Discovery Centre exploring the themes of invention" - so vague a description that you know it's in trouble. The Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (Fact) in Liverpool swiftly moved last week to overtake it with a bid for Arts Council lottery funding to start a centre for artists using digital technology. If an Imax cinema opens soon in Liverpool, take it as a sign they've got it: Imax cinemas mushroom wherever there is a millennium project.

Business parks and visitor centres are signs of millennium activity. The Lowry Centre at Salford near Manchester even changed its logo from a stick-like Lowry figure into a silhouette of a marina once it had got its handsome lottery-funded theatre and gallery by Michael Wilford built. The BTA describes this bit of entrepreneurial opportunism as a "waterfront complex including a gallery devoted to the work of local artist Lowry as well as two theatres and an interactive gallery".

You can spot the post-industrial regions that the Government thought needed regeneration by the number of millennial projects. Sheffield has done well with its highly entertaining and architecturally provocative steel drum juke-boxes for the National Pop Music Centre by Nigel Coates, a Winter Garden and Magna 2000 (due to open in 2001 in an old steel mill). Newcastle upon Tyne is credited with two lottery-funded projects belonging to Gateshead, its rival across the river: the Millennium Bridge like a silver visor on a helmet by Chris Wilkinson that links the two cities; and the Baltic Flour Mills renovation to turn it into a contemporary arts centre (opening autumn 2000, according to the BTA) which doesn't even have a crane on site - though it has a curator. "The jewel in Newcastle's crown," the International Centre for Life by Terry Farrell (opening April 2000) which explores the secrets of genetics and DNA, is "a must for would- be detectives" gushes the BTA. It's a pity the boffins can't bring the cloning technique they used on Dolly to get this building off the ground. The downturn in the Malaysian economy badly affected sponsorship and the building stood half finished for a time - it is still a long way off completion.

Wakehurst has one of the best examples of Millennium Commission-funded building, the Millennium Seed Bank by Stanton Williams to save the seed from the world's arid zones and local flora. In Portsmouth there is one of the worst examples. The naval docks on the wharf were inaccessible and isolated from the city. The MoD sold them off to the highest bidder instead of giving the land to the city for a garden or a marina. Now property developers are concreting them over with shopping malls.

The biggest and most interesting project in the South West, apart from Bristol's Millennium harbourside development, is the Eden Centre in St Austell, Cornwall. Nick Grimshaw's geodesic domed glasshouse over a quarry creates two planthouses and an exhibition space for over 10,000 plants. At least there was already a hole in the ground for that project to take root.

Wales has three Millennium projects: Cardiff Arms Park which will host the Rugby World Cup final in November; the Wales Millennium Centre (opening 2001) which shows us what became of Zaha Hadid's incredible Cardiff Opera House; and the Coastal park project that restores a chunk of eroded coastline near Llanelli.

Besides being in a time warp, the whole brochure sends out the wrong signals for the branding of Britain. Nobody told the BTA that in Cool Britannia beefeaters on the cover are old fashioned. I know it's talking about heritage as well as modern Britain but it should have been able to show some racy new modern buildings that were not computerised images. And the jar of Marmite it captioned "one of Britain's most popular exports has been made since 1902 in Burton on Trent" avoids mentioning that like so many of our other major exports from Rolls-Royce to HP sauce and the QE2, the businesses have sold out to foreign firms.

LIVERPOOL

The project

National Discovery Park

Grant awarded

pounds 27m

The problem

No sign of the multimedia centre or the glass covered park with a new bridge to Albert Docks

The project

Magna

Grant awarded

pounds 18m

The problem

Everyone is rooting for this disused steel colliery but they can't find sponsors to give it the full monty

The project

Portsmouth Harbour

Grant awarded

pounds 40m

The problem

A tower in a harbourside development that nobody wants except the Millennium Commission

The project

National Science Centre

Grant awarded

pounds 35m

The problem

All architects BDP have produced is a model for the new centre on reclaimed docklands on the Clyde

The project

The Eden Project

Grant awarded

pounds 37m

The problem

Being downsized so fast even its website can't keep up. The glass houses are, it says, 60m tall. In fact they're only 45m

ROTHERHAM

PORTSMOUTH

GLASGOW

ST AUSTELL

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