Greenwich wins pounds 200m millennium battle

Lottery hand-outs: Minister reveals Birmingham has lost out as Cardiff secures pounds 46m
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The Independent Online

Greenwich has beaten Birmingham to win the battle to host the nation's millennium celebrations, it emerged yesterday.

Michael Cassidy, policy chairman of the Corporation of London which fixed the project's finance, said he had been told, unofficially, that the south- east London site had been chosen.

The decision, expected to be confirmed by the Millennium Commission next week, will prove a bitter disappointment to Birmingham. The city had pursued a vigorous campaign highlighting the merits of using its well-established exhibition centre in the heart of England.

But it will be a major boost to east London. The site will receive up to pounds 200m of National Lottery money to stage a celebration intended to rival the Great Exhibition of 1851 or the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Millions more have been pledged by businesses who backed Greenwich's proposals involving a two-year exhibition with pavilions contributed by cities all over the country at a total cost of pounds 700m. It is expected to attract more than 15 million visitors.

Mr Cassidy said: "Obviously the Commission aren't ready to make a formal announcement, but it is being openly discussed at Westminster. I had dinner with a Cabinet minister last night who wanted to thank me for the Corporation's efforts in securing it for Greenwich."

A spokesman for the Corporation of London confirmed rumours that the Cabinet minister in question was John Gummer, the Secretary of State for the Environment. He said: "I can confirm that is true. Yes they did meet last night [Thursday]. Yes John Gummer told Michael Cassidy Greenwich is the site."

The decision was good news for the capital in emphasising its status worldwide and the celebrations would prove a "phenomenal attraction," Mr Cassidy said. "It will bring badly needed investment to the eastern part of London. Ministers seem to have been convinced about the regenerative benefits of doing it on a piece of mud in the East End which will be turned into a long-term source of investment and jobs."

A spokeswoman for the Millennium Commission said the decision was "still in the process of being made" and they were hoping to announce it next week.

Neil Martinson, spokesman for the Greenwich Millennium Trust which masterminded the bid, said: "We've always been confident that we had the best location for such a celebration. The River Thames is a stunning setting and we have the heritage and the 'home of time'. It's always been the obvious choice."

A Greenwich council spokesman said: "If it is true, then we are delighted with the decision."

And one council worker said: "We've been hearing rumours all week of Birmingham MPs walking around Westminster with long faces.

"It will be a terrific boost to the local economy as well as London as a whole. People will flock to Greenwich from all over the world."

An unnamed minister was yesterday reported to have said: "The choice facing the committee has been between a project which could have a lasting impact on the surrounding population and one which is not so permanent."

John Cole, marketing director for the National Exhibition Centre which would have hosted the city's celebration, said they had received no direct information yet from the Commission. "It would be inappropriate to comment at this stage," he said.