Plans for a Welsh National Opera house on the scale of the Sydney Opera were at serious risk after the Millennium Commission yesterday failed to give a grant for the building.
The Secretary of State for National Heritage, Virginia Bottomley, yesterday announced that the latest round of grants funded by the National Lottery would not include money for the pounds 86m opera house, centrepiece of the Cardiff docklands development project.
MPs and opera board trustees reacted angrily, blaming an anti-Wales bias, a separate bid for money for a new national rugby stadium and the building's controversial modernist design. Lord Crickhowell, chairman of the Cardiff Bay Opera House Trust, was "flabbergasted by the decision" and accused the Millennium Commission of pro-London bias. The trust had asked for pounds 2.7m to help with building work through to 1997. Plans for the house to open on 1 March 2000 were last night on hold.
Ann Clwyd, Labour MP for Cynon Valley, said: "The Millennium Fund can find pounds 55m for the Royal Opera House and yet a vital scheme for Cardiff is rejected."
An application to redevelop Cardiff Arms Park in time for the 1999 Rugby World Cup, to be hosted by Wales, will be considered in time for the commission's next round of grants in February. For the past year, the bids for rugby and opera were thought to be "competing for the soul of Wales". Glanmore Griffiths, honorary treasurer of the Welsh Rugby Union, refused to gloat. "We have never criticised the opera house and we are only concerned with our bid."
Rhodri Morgan, Labour's spokesman for Welsh affairs, was not surprised by the move. "If it came to a choice between the rugby stadium and the opera house, then the stadium would come first. The Welsh Secretary of State [William Hague] is a Meat Loaf fan and if you have a Meat Loaf fan as secretary, it's unsurprising."
The bold design of the building is not thought to have helped its chances either. The architect, Zaha Hadid, won a contest of 267 entrants to design the opera house and her "glass necklace" design horrified many Welsh people, and the then Secretary of State for Wales, John Redwood, expressed his concern. about the avant-garde nature of the design
The architect last night said she was "very disappointed" by the decision but did not think her design was to blame. "Maybe I'm being naive, but I don't take it personally," she said.
The commission's deputy chief executive, Heather Wilkinson, said: "To suggest we're running scared of modern architecture is quite wrong. We turned it down because the project wasn't ready." Mrs Bottomley said that more commissioners had seen the opera house than anything else and that the rejection of the application was to do with risks over "finance, construction and design".
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