Royal Opera House will get pounds 50m from lottery

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The Arts Council has agreed to give the Royal Opera House millions of pounds of National Lottery money despite claims that the lottery is milking the poor to fund the hobbies of the rich.

In a move expected to unleash a storm of protest, senior members of the Arts Council agreed this week to give the ROH the go-ahead to redevelop its Covent Garden site with lottery funding. But in an attempt to mollify its critics, it is believed to have decided to give the Opera House only pounds 50m of the pounds 78.5m it asked for in January.

The decision was made at a meeting of the Arts Council of England on Monday, with the chairman, Lord Gowrie, arguing persuasively that the prestigious institution should succeed. The final ratification is understood to have come from an inner group, including Lord Gowrie, Mary Allen, the secretary-general, and Peter Gummer, chairman of the lottery panel.

It remained unclear last night whether the announcement would be made at a press conference to publicise the fourth round of Arts Council lottery grants scheduled for this morning. The Opera House said yesterday that it would not itself know until then.

The Arts Council is extremely sensitive about the timing of the announcement because it fears a row. On Monday a report by the Rowntree Foundation attacked lottery distribution bodies for giving more money to rich communities than poor ones.

The ROH is particularly vulnerable to the accusation of social elitism, and its bid for pounds 78.5m has been hotly debated ever since its director, Jeremy Isaacs, delivered the application for funds to restore the Floral Hall, give the Royal Ballet a home at the Covent Garden site, and create a second auditorium.

Although the institution initially claimed it had asked for more than pounds 50m, it emerged later that it had also requested a further pounds 23m to pay for previous development schemes.