Millennium party to leave Britain with bill of the century

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The Independent Online
Celebrating the Millennium is going to cost a lot of money. Andrew Buncombe examines the bill behind the party to end all parties.

In Cardiff the retractable roof on the new National Stadium will be the envy of the sporting world. In Cornwall, a rainforest and a desert will be among four different environments contained with the Eden Project "biomes". In London the Tate will establish a new national gallery of modern art.

These projects are among 185 around Britain ranging from the grand to the small-scaled which are being funded by the Millennium Commission to mark the changeover from 31.12. 1999 to 01.01.2000. The commission says it will be long-lasting projects which will benefit not only our children "but our children's children".

But these things do not come cheap. Yesterday it was revealed that marking and celebrating the Millennium will cost a total of pounds 4bn - around pounds 71 for every man, woman and child in Britain, or enough to produce a film such as Titanic every year until 2028.

Around pounds 1.9bn is coming from the Millennium Commission and is money which has been raised by the National Lottery. Of this pounds 1.25bn is being spent on the 185 capital projects which have to have "match funding" from other sources.

In addition the commission will be spending pounds 400m on the Greenwich Dome, pounds 200m on grants for individuals and pounds 20m for festivals in 2000. The remainder of the pounds 4bn will come from local authorities, government departments and private sponsorship.

Some economists believe that the amount being spent on the Millennium - revealed for the first time by the commission yesterday - will have a noticeable effect on the economy.

Simon Briscoe, economist with securities house Nikko Europe, said it could add to upward pressure on wage demands, particularly in the areas of information technology and light construction. "We are in a delicate position with the economy and at the margins this could have some effect," he said. It was pointed out. however. that the total, around half a per cent of GDP, is much less than pounds 30bn-pounds 35bn handed out by building societies last year in the form of free shares.

But for some the whole issue of the celebrations and projects creates what might best be described as millennium angst. A survey published yesterday showed that two-thirds of Britain's Roman Catholic bishops have expressed opposition to the Greenwich Dome project and feel the pounds 758m it will eventually cost would be better spent housing the homeless or writing off the debts of the developing world.

Archbishop John Ward of Cardiff called the Dome "a big white elephant" and warned it could become a "monument to stupidity".

A commission spokesman said: "Some people say it is a waste of money but at the moment people can only see the foundations of these projects.

"We are using public money and it is correct that people should question things. However, this is money that is going back into the community to fund the ideas of ordinary people."

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