Everyone wants slice of millennium action

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The Independent Online
REBECCA FOWLER

BRITAIN has launched its plans for the 21st century: the nation's heritage will go high-tech with virtual reality, the countryside will be expanded, and church leaders want to mark the millennium with special help for the debt-ridden Third World.

After a slow start, Britain appears to have caught millennium fever, with institutions nationwide suggesting schemes to celebrate the year 2000.

Cardinal Basil Hume, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, is anxious the religious aspect should not be lost.

"We are on the threshold of a new millennium which for Christians is a jubilee - a time traditionally when debts are forgiven," he said yesterday at a meeting of politicians and senior executives from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

"It is hard to imagine a more fitting symbol of the celebration of joy for humanity that this jubilee represents than to assist the liberation of the people of these poorest countries from the burden of unpayable debts which they carry."

While Cardinal Hume was stressing the importance of Christian spirit, leaders of organisations representing the countryside revealed ambitious millennium plans to make nature more accessible to the public.

The Countryside Commission announced a pounds 67m initiative to create 1,000 new public open spaces by the turn of the century.

The "Millennium Greens" would be created in local communities as "breathing spaces". The commission has already drawn up detailed plans for 23 pilot schemes. It has applied for lottery money from the Millennium Commission to fund half of the massive project's budget.

Richard Simmonds, chairman of the commission, said the plan would benefit people and wildlife. "Our objective is to provide local open spaces, a green lung, to communities which have none at present," he revealed.

"It would be an opportunity for people to take a walk and unwind from the pressures of daily life."

If the commission's lottery application is successful, the rest of the money would be raised locally, from sources such as sponsorship. Voluntary labour would be sought and communities interested in the idea should come forward.

Meanwhile, another bid was launched by the National Trust yesterday for pounds 11.5m from the Millennium Commission to fund an ambitious scheme to take it into the 21st century.

It aims to use modern technology, including virtual reality, CD-Rom and interactive displays at 30 centres, providing a high-tech "gateway" to information on them.

The scheme, which would cost pounds 22.7m in total, has been called "A Thousand Threads".

Among the sites first to benefit would be Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire, Snowdonia in North Wales and Cragside in Northumberland.

Martin Drury, director general of the National Trust, said: "We hope it will celebrate the millennium by giving millions of people new opportunities to discover and enjoy our inheritance of natural and man-made treasures, rekindle pride in Britain's past, and generate confidence in the future."

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