Millennium post highlights doubts

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The man given the job of overseeing the building and running of the millennium exhibition planned for Greenwich in south-east London, has been appointed on only a three-month contract, because of continued uncertainty over the project.

Barry Hartop, chief executive of the Welsh Development Agency, has been seconded from the Welsh office to the millennium exhibition. Despite the fact the exhibition is due to be built over the next three years, his contract is for just three months initially, with the option to return to the WDA if the event fails to get off the ground.

Mr Hartop is to run the operating company set up to put the mammoth celebration together. Chaired by Robert Ayling, the British Airways chief, it is expected to be called Millennium Central. It will get cash from the Millennium Commission from National Lottery receipts and from private commercial sponsors.

But doubts continue to be expressed in Whitehall about the slow progress of the project. British Gas, the owner of the Greenwich peninsular which includes the exhibition site and English Partnerships, the Government agency formed to revitalised inner cities, have yet to agree terms. Warnings have already been issued by some of those organising the event that the original pounds 500m budget may rise to pounds 800m and could climb to nearer pounds 1bn.

Sponsors are becoming increasingly frustrated at the secrecy surrounding the project. They have yet to be shown in detail how their pavilions will look and what their money will be spent on. At the same time officials are nervous about meeting a planning deadline set for the end of this month. By then all the plans for the infrastructure, new road and transport links, must be entered with the local council.

News of Mr Hartop's temporary appointment provoked anger in Wales, with Ron Davies, Labour's spokesman on Wales, claiming that the need to attract overseas investment and boost the local economy was taking second place to a flagship government project in London.