The Millennium Commission has indicated that it will award the prestigious contract for a grand exhibition to celebrate the arrival of the 21st century to a London design consultancy called Imagination. But it is still divided over a site for the event in a battle between Greenwich, in south-east London, and Birmingham.
The nine commissioners, headed by Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, met yesterday to compare bids.
They are expected to give pounds 200m towards the year-long exhibition, which could cost a total of pounds 500m.
The support for Imagination, which designed the Dinosaur Gallery for the Natural History Museum and the Cadbury Fantasy Factory, a chocolate museum in Birmingham, was the first move towards a final decision.
But indications that the design consultancy has been successful does not mean that its competitor, a consortium including the MAI Group, led by Lord Hollick, and M2000 headed by Touche Ross, the management consultancy, has been completely ruled out.
Both Birmingham and Greenwich have lobbied furiously to host the event, which is expected to attract 50 million visitors. They aim to create a celebration that will match the Great Exhibition of 1851.
The representatives of both sides said they were neck and neck yesterday. Greenwich hopes to transform a 130-acre derelict site on the river Thames, while Birmingham plans a site around the National Exhibition Centre (NEC).
But there was speculation the Greenwich site has emerged as the front runner, since Imagination has been asked for more details on how it would use this land. It is backed by the local MP Peter Bottomley, Mrs Bottomley's husband, and its champions say London is the natural home for the celebrations, especially a site on the Meridian which is strongly symbolic.
The organisers hope to raise pounds 50m from the Corporation of the City of London to support the event, and Michael Heseltine, the deputy prime minister, is also understood to be enthusiastic about the south-east London site.
But Birmingham has powerful support from those critics of the lottery who claim too much money has been concentrated on the capital. Its backers say the NEC is already a functioning exhibition site able to deal with large numbers of people.