Big money goes to small projects

Millennium funding: Low-level schemes to get benefit as commissioners step back from landmark proposals

The Millennium Commission stepped back from its original aim of funding monumental and landmark projects when it announced its first round of awards yesterday.

The 27 projects totalling pounds 66.5m are almost all low level, local and environmental, amounting to a reversal of the commission's original dream to create memorable landmarks. Last year, one commissioner, Simon Jenkins, called for schemes with "fizz, excitement, and panache". Another, the Earl of Dalkeith, said successful projects would be "on a grander scale than usual".

But yesterday the only award which met any of such definition was the grant of up to pounds 42.5m to the charity Sustrans (short for Sustainable Transport) to create a national network of cycle paths. These will total more than 6,500 miles of traffic-free paths and traffic-calmed roads running through most major towns in the United Kingdom. The total project cost is estimated at pounds 183m.

But this scheme appears to go against one criteria for millennium funding - that projects are accessible to the disabled. Yesterday Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for National Heritage and chair of the Millennium Commission, said wheelchairs could be used on the route and bicycles could be adapted for the disabled.

Asked whether the award to Sustrans did not compromise the principle of additionality, under which lottery money cannot be spent on areas funded by the Government, Mrs Bottomley answered: "To build 2,500 miles of cycle routes is not something the Government would have been able to do." The second largest award went to the Groundwork Foundation, which was given grants of up to pounds 22.1m for up to 21 projects to reclaim wasteland in England and Wales.

The five-year programme aims to provide footpaths, safe play areas, cycle tracks, sports and community facilities and wildlife parks. A deprived housing area in Blackburn, Lancashire, a length of the Digbeth branch canal in Birmingham, and a former rubbish dump in Saltash, Cornwall, will be among areas which benefit.

The other awards included a pounds 736,000 grant to Northamptonshire County Council and Anglia Water to make a country park accessible to the disabled and a grant of pounds 547,000 to Wigtown District Council in Scotland to turn a town centre car park into a "high-quality seafront amenity" with a boating lake and cafe.

n Britain's oldest public art gallery has won a pounds 3m endowment grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which also distributes lottery cash, to help to defend it from a long-term threat of closure.

Dulwich Picture Gallery in south-east London, has been awarded the grant as part of its attempt to create an endowment fund of pounds 10.5m to ensure an annual income of pounds 800,000.

Leading article, page 14

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