Lottery cash for parks, says poll

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The public wants lottery money spent on making parks safe for children, not on buying works of art, according to a poll carried out for one of the main distributors of lottery cash.

The MORI poll commissioned by the Heritage Lottery Fund - but not released to the national press - found that parks, particularly national parks, remain the top priority for preservation. And public priorities for funding focus on providing access for disabled people and ensuring local parks are made safe for children.

Buying works of art - a cause on which the Heritage Lottery Fund has so far spent millions of pounds - struck the public as "the least urgent use of lottery funds".

Equally, support for the preservation of museums, stately homes and gardens and industrial heritage has fallen sharply over the past two years. Only 29 per cent see museums as a priority for preservation (a 14 per cent drop since 1995), only 13 per cent cite stately homes (a 16 per cent drop) and only 11 per cent cite industrial heritage (a 12 per cent drop).

Thirty six per cent are unhappy with the whole concept of lottery money paying for heritage projects. They wish to see more money given to charities and health, and are also believe that Camelot, the organiser, is taking too much money from the lottery.

The findings will have considerable implications for the use of lottery money by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is chaired by Lord Rothschild. They will also cause alarm bells to ring for museums and art galleries which look to the Fund to buy works of art for them, and will now fear a change in policy.

As a spokesman for the Heritage Lottery Fund said yesterday: "This is part of a large consultation programme and we will be studying the comments made before issuing new guidelines for the distribution of lottery grant by the end of the year."

The Fund has distributed pounds 680m of lottery money in total, with pounds 324m going to museums and galleries, and pounds 30m purely on buying works of art.

David Barrie, director of the National Art Collections Fund, said last night: "There is a real danger of the definition of heritage being stretched to breaking point. It is very important that the HLF be available to buy great works of art. Local parks are supported by local government. Museums and galleries have no money at all to purchase works of art."

MORI interviewed almost 2,000 people. As well as respondents stressing the importance of more access to parks for the disabled (81 per cent) and making them safe for the young (76 per cent), there were marked increases in believing it very important that projects given lottery funds benefit the local community and that they help protect the countryside.