Green research complex lands pounds 50m grant

Millennium Commission: 'Exciting and trail-blazing' environmental projects benefit from latest lottery cash share-out
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A pounds 125m project to convert a disused colliery site in South Yorkshire into a high-tech visitor centre and education complex will receive up to pounds 50m of lottery money in awards announced by the Millennium Commission yesterday.

The grant will help create the Earth Centre, a state-of-the-art centre for environmental research and sustainable technology, on the 142-hectare site at Conisbrough, near Doncaster.

Announcing pounds 109m in awards to 54 projects nationwide, Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for National Heritage, hailed the Earth Centre as "the largest education complex built in the UK since the Victorian museums of South Kensington".

She added: "It is a truly innovative project, constructed on entirely sustainable and ecologically-friendly principles. This project offers the UK the potential to become a world leader in information on sustainable technology."

A second major scheme unveiled was the regeneration of Portsmouth harbour, which will receive pounds 40m towards its pounds 86m cost. The scheme's backers hope to create an international maritime arena for locals and visitors. "The project will bring new life and activity to the whole of this historic sea front, could regenerate the entire region and is an exciting and imaginative use of Millennium Commission funds," Mrs Bottomley said.

The first stage of an ambitious plan to re-forest huge areas of Scotland was also given the green light as Mrs Bottomley, chairwoman of the Millennium Commission, listed a further 52 awards, totalling pounds 19m. The Millennium Forest for Scotland will receive a grant of pounds 5.75m towards its total pounds 11.5m cost. Approval was granted to the principle of the entire project, which could cost pounds 100m and would eventually double the country's forests.

The first stage involves 45 separate sites throughout Scotland, from Orkney to industrial Lanarkshire, covering a combined area equivalent to 64 square miles. Half will be new woodland and half will be regenerated and reclaimed from existing areas. It aims to restore the native broadleaf and conifer woodlands which once covered much of the country.

Barbara Kelly, chairwoman of the Millennium Forest for Scotland Initiative, welcomed the grant: "The new woodlands will provide not only great scenic beauty but play a vital part in Scotland's culture and environment, its education and economy."

Other awards included pounds 5.3m towards a pounds 13m trans-Pennine trail for cyclists and walkers, and pounds 4.3m to help with the pounds 9.5m restoration of railway link between Porthmadog and Caernarfon in North Wales, first established more than 160 years ago.

Yesterday's grants follow the announcement in August of a total of pounds 66.5m to various Millennium projects, the biggest of which was a pounds 42.5m cycle route throughout the UK. Mrs Bottomley described the winners as "exciting and trail-blazing" and she invited applications for the next round of awards.

At the Labour Party conference in Brighton, the possibility was raised of a Labour government taking away the running of the lottery from Camelot and giving it to a non-profit making organisation.

t A consortium chaired by Lord Young of Graffham plans to turn Shell's famous Downstream building on London's South Bank into a national performing arts institute. An application to the Arts Council Lottery Board for a feasibility study will be announced today.

Top Six Millennium Commission Awards

1. The Earth Centre, Conisbrough, nr Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

Grant of up to pounds 50m towards a pounds 125m project to establish a world centre for environmental research and sustainable technology.

2. The Millennium Cycle Route.

pounds 42.5m towards a pounds 183m project to create 2,500-mile cycle route throughout the UK.

3. Renaissance of Portsmouth Harbour.

pounds 40m for an pounds 86m harbour development which will create an international maritime leisure complex.

4. The Groundwork Foundation.

pounds 22.1m for up to 21 projects in England and Wales, with a common theme reclaiming wasteland, to improve the local environment and benefit local people through community schemes.

5. The Millennium Forest for Scotland.

Potential grant of pounds 5.75m towards an pounds 11.5m series of 45 projects to extend native woodland and conserve wildlife in Scotland.

6. Trans Pennine Trail.

pounds 5.33m for a pounds 13m, 714km route for walkers and cyclists linking Merseyside with Humberside.

The Millennium Commission has announced grants totalling pounds 175.5m towards 81 projects nationwide.