Leisure: Peer accuses leading Tories of failing Cardiff's opera project

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The Independent Online
Tales of the intrigue and decision-making behind the Cardiff Opera House controversy are revealed in a book published yesterday.

The roles played by Michael Heseltine, Virginia Bottomley, William Hague and the Welsh Office, the Millennium Commission, and other agencies are also described in the account by Lord Crickhowell, a former Secretary of State for Wales.

At one point, Michael Heseltine is said to have shown an astonishing lack of understanding of the project, while Virginia Bottomley failed to give the impression of being in charge.

The book describes in detail the behind-the-scenes problems that dogged the enterprise, which began in 1994 with an international architectural competition for the design of an opera house for Wales. The controversial design by Zaha Hadid was finally accepted as the winner and a bid put in to the Millennium Commission for funding.

Lord Crickhowell, the last Tory Secretary of State for Wales who held a Welsh seat, chaired the Cardiff Bay Opera House Trust. He is critical of the Millennium Commission: "The Commission's approach seems to have been based on the view that the avoidance of blame is even more important than the avoidance of risk." He says the trust considered seeking a judicial review of the rejection of funding on the grounds that it was a capricious decision, but eventually decided not to proceed.

The Welsh Office under William Hague is criticised for not supporting the project: "A leading Labour politician told me that it was his opinion that if Peter Walker, David Hunt or I had been at the Welsh Office we would not have allowed it to happen," he writes in Opera House Lottery, published by the University of Wales Press. He points out that Mr Hague was then new to office, but adds: "It seems that the Welsh Office sat inactive on the sidelines, although less than a year later we had the curious spectacle of the Secretary of State inviting Welsh businessmen to lunch in order to seek their support for the Millennium Exhibition in London. Clearly attitudes had changed since my time there."