Leaked memo attacks funding decision

Crisis at Greenwich: Multi-million pound project could be scrapped without National Lottery Memorial Fund backing
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The Independent Online
A "catalogue of incompetence" in the allocation of money by the National Lottery Memorial Fund is revealed in a leaked memorandum by Sir Robert Fellowes, the Queen's private secretary, Chris Smith, the Labour Party's National Heritage spokesman, said yesterday.

Sir Robert's five-page memorandum to the Prime Minister's Office says the refusal of the National Lottery Memorial Fund to approve the project to develop the National Maritime Museum's Neptune Hall at Greenwich in south-east London, which presently houses a steam tug, launches, and yachts, could force the museum to abandon the plans, unless action is taken quickly.

The museum had planned to complete the scheme - a key part of its multi- million-pound development of the site - by 1999 in time for the Millennium when the National Maritime Museum has "an unprecedented opportunity" to display and promote its galleries and services to 10 million visitors who are expected to visit Greenwich.

A total of pounds 560,000 has been spent on the project, which "is already behind schedule and any further delay cannot be contemplated as it would ensure that the museum was a building site with half its galleries closed during the Millennium celebrations", Sir Robert says, adding: "Any further delay in funding decisions will almost certainly lead to cancellation of the project."

It follows the development of the Queen's House at a cost of pounds 6m; the south-west wing, costing pounds 3.6m; the Old Royal Observatory at a cost of pounds 2.2m; the east wing, at a cost of pounds 1m; and at a cost of pounds 4m the west- central wing as an information centre; the west wing, north end, as an education centre, and the west-central wing south end.

Sir Robert says the Neptune Hall scheme was "essential for the improvement of access and circulation". It had been approved by English Heritage; had listed buildings consent byGreenwich council; clearance from the Treasury's economic appraisal; was given exemption from the Government's private funding initiative, normally requiring all big capital projects to seek private money; and outline approval by the Department of National Heritage.

Application for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund was made in January. It was thought that it would be approved by the National Heritage Memorial Fund without delay, but in July it was rejected. The memorial fund based its decision on four reports, but Sir Robert says that in the view of the museum's trustees, "these reports are superficial and in some cases ignorant and prejudiced".

The architects for the scheme, Building Design Partnership, were dismissed in a report on the architecture of the project as having "special expertise for large scale commercial complexes, regional shopping centres and transport buildings..." But it failed to mention that BDP were the architects for the refurbishment of the Round Tower, Windsor Castle, the Royal Albert Hall, and the Royal Opera House. Sir Robert says this "undermines the credibility of the report".

A second report on the interior was largely complimentary, but the author raised issues which were already being addressed and made no attempt to contact the museum or the designers. The third report on environmental services "exhibited ignorance of design details" and its author failed to contact the museum. The author of a fourth report on disabled access made no contact with the museum and failed to note that the museum had appointed a disabled persons liaison officer.

Sir Robert says: "The trustees of the NMM have been given no inkling that their application was likely to be rejected and have not any stage been informed in writing of the nature of the NHMF reservations. The trustees have spent four years and over half a million pounds developing this scheme and are satisfied that it best meets the primary objective of improving access to and circulation within the museum while enhancing the historic buildings."