Millennium projects still pounds 330m short

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The Independent Online
AS THE countdown begins today to the last 500 days of the century, a survey by The Independent of 40 of the biggest millennium projects around the country has revealed a pounds 330m shortfall in funding.

A group of Labour MPs has called on the Millennium Commission, responsible for projects across Britain, to "pull their fingers out".

David Taylor, MP for Leicestershire North West, said: "My personal view is that they are dragging their feet. They should pull their fingers out before the projects are lost."

Mr Taylor, in company with fellow MPs Dennis Skinner and Paddy Tipping, visited the Millennium Commission to complain of the delays in a plan to provide community facilities in the former coalfields of the east Midlands.

Hold-ups created by bureaucracy in the commission, which is not connected to the New Millennium Experience Company, can have a crippling effect on efforts to raise the "partnership funding" for projects, which usually has to match the sum provided by the lottery.

"Many of the Millennium Commission's contracts are not thought through and contravene the rules of other potential sources of funds," said a source close to the coalfields project.

Gary Davis, marketing manager of the National Botanic Garden of Wales, which has a pounds 21m lottery grant from the commission, agrees that any delays can cause problems. "I've heard the phrase 'donor fatigue' quite a lot. There is a lot of competition to find funding at the moment," he said.

Among those projects trying to enliven fatigued donors is one at Kew Gardens, west London, where a pounds 72m plan to freeze seeds is in need of pounds 26m.

The three largest projects intended to commemorate the millennium account for pounds 85m of the shortfall. They are the Millennium Dome at Greenwich and two environmentally themed schemes, the Earth Centre and the Eden Project.

The dome (pounds 50m short) needs more sponsors despite the best efforts of project overseer Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

The Earth Centre in Doncaster is still to draw pounds 30m of its commission funding because of a failure to raise an equal sum from other sources. The Eden project, in Cornwall, had to drop one of the three biospheres it had intended to build and it still needs to raise pounds 5m to construct the remaining two.

The Tate Gallery in London needs pounds 20m, the Glasgow Science Centre pounds 20m and the British Museum pounds 9m. The Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff will open without a pounds 20m museum. Portsmouth Harbour needed pounds 6.6m until a recent decision to scale down plans.

A spokeswoman for the Millennium Commission admitted that a third of projects were still in initial stages of planning and had yet to be discussed in detail. "We are confident that the projects can find the money," she said. "There is only pounds 80m which is what we would call 'unsourced'."

She said that, for money to be "sourced", a donation has to be only under consideration by a benefactor. In other words, the millennium project managers have yet to identify any potential source for pounds 80m.

A spokesman for one project, who was reluctant to be identified, said: "Initial optimism about finding matching funding doesn't always materialise."

In response to Mr Taylor's comments, the Millennium Commission spokeswoman said: "We are custodians of public money and we think it is important to be prudent and be careful; there would be much more criticism if we weren't."

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport refused to comment.

t Mr Mandelson has yet to persuade a single business to sponsor the "spirit zone" of the Millennium Dome, the area devoted to religion.

The New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) is still trying to raise the pounds 12m needed for this most controversial of the dome's 14 zones.

Church leaders argue that it should be a forum for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, while members of other religions have questioned why Christianity should be centre stage. Mr Mandelson has promised it will be multi-faith.

An NMEC spokeswoman yesterday confirmed the lack of funding but added: "We are still a long way off and we've raised well over pounds 100m. That's the largest amount raised for a single event in this country."

Visitors to the spirit zone are supposed to enter through a gateway and then walk along a "pilgrim's progress" of holograms and other futuristic images to convey the common springs of human spirituality.

For those religious leaders who suspect that the Greenwich project will be nothing but a pleasure dome, the fact that funding is not forthcoming will be perceived as a sign. And they won't be praying for a miracle.

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