Go-ahead for world's biggest Ferris wheel

South Bank regeneration: Lottery grant for pounds 40m National Theatre repairs as private sector backs 500-ft millennium skyride
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The Independent Online
Plans to build the world's largest Ferris wheel on a site overlooking the River Thames and the Palace of Westminster will in effect be given the go-ahead tomorrow with the announcement of funding by British Airways.

The 500ft-high Millennium Ferris is expected to cost pounds 9.5m and should be revolving by 1998 in Jubilee Gardens, next to the old County Hall.

The wheel is the latest move in the regeneration of the South Bank, coinciding with the National Theatre winning pounds 31m in lottery money this week from the Arts Council for renovation.

Ironically, the Ferris project will not receive any lottery funding. Instead MPs will be soon able to gaze at a triumph for private finance as British Airways is expected to announce tomorrow that it will provide the bulk of the funding.

An estimated two million visitors a year will be treated to panoramic views of London as they travel at a gentle 1.5ft per second. A round trip will take about 20 minutes and will cost between pounds 3 and pounds 5.

More than half the energy needed to propel the wheel will be provided by the river Thames's tidal power, while the 60 all-weather cars will be lit and heated by solar panels.

The scheme is the idea of the London-based architects David Marks and Julia Barfield, regarded as among the most innovative of their generation. Mr Marks has said: "We wanted to come up with something that wasn't just another dumb monument." But yesterday he was reluctant to talk before this week's announcement.

Final approval is expected in June from Lambeth council, in whose area the development will take place. The creators plan to keep the wheel there for five years and then move to a permanent site.

However, the giant wheel is not without critics. Lord St John of Fawsley, the former Cabinet minister and now chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission, has attacked it as "wholly unsuitable for this part of London".

Meanwhile the Arts Council is due to announce a pounds 31m lottery grant to the National Theatre. Theatre officials have been reassured it will get the money for pounds 42m repairs to the front of house, backstage and roof. This will be dwarfed, however, if the South Bank succeeds in an application for pounds 127m to spruce up the Royal Festival Hall, reigniting the controversy over "elitist" lottery grants.

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