Bottomley tells why London won Millennium fight

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Greenwich was officially announced as the winner of the contest to stage the Millennium Exhibition yesterday, amid bitter allegations from rival bidders Birmingham that the contest had been fixed in favour of London.

The news that the Millennium Commission had picked the site south-east of the capital was leaked last week by Michael Cassidy, policy chairman of the Corporation of London, after a meeting with John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment.

Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Heritage, yesterday paid tribute to Birmingham's bid, but said that Greenwich could provide an exciting exhibition based on the concept of time because of its position on the Meridian Line.

She pledged pounds 200m of National Lottery money for the pounds 700m plan, but approval is still conditional on the scheme's backers producing a business plan and private funding to finance the celebrations marking the year 2000.

Mrs Bottomley said: "The Greenwich peninsular could enable the Commission to deliver a substantial legacy for London and the UK. The Millennium Exhibition would regenerate an important part of south London, it would breathe new life into a wasteland close to the heart of the capital."

There was a bitter reaction in the West Midlands to the decision to choose a derelict and polluted site in preference to the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, which already has many of the facilities needed and is at the centre of an efficient transport network.

Robin Corbett, Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington, said: "It's a stitch- up. Through the whole bidding process they have constantly moved the goalposts. They had made their minds up from the start."

He said that the Commission had shifted the criteria for deciding on the site by introducing urban regeneration as a factor part of the way through the contest. Mr Corbett and Jeff Rooker, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Bar, angrily questioned Mrs Bottomley and Simon Jenkins, chairman of the Commission's festival committee, at yesterday's press conference to announce the choice.

Both denied that the scales had been tipped in London's favour.

Mr Jenkins said: "It has been a really fair fight. It was a difficult decision, they were very different sites and the Commission had to form a judgement, we had to choose and we came to the conclusion that Greenwich was the best site."

The exhibition will be presented in 12 themed pavilions, each showing a different interpretation of time. British regions will each be given a week to put on their own exhibition.