Royal Opera lottery cash blocked

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT is not prepared to give the Royal Opera House income from the National Lottery to help pay for its much-vaunted pounds 150m redevelopment. Sir Angus Stirling, chairman of the Opera House board, said last week that without lottery money it would have to sell properties to clear debts.

But a senior government source told the Independent on Sunday: 'John Major is very keen on opera and on the Royal Opera House as an important flagship development, but for that very reason he believes they can do it own their own.'

Minsters have already made clear that the Opera House can expect no favours from the Treasury, but its board believes the development programme is a prime contender for lottery money.

Sir Angus said earlier this week: 'The Government has confirmed ROH's view that our scheme for refurbishment and development is certainly the kind of capital project to which the lottery will be relevant, particularly since it will contain a major element of partnership funding.'

If the lottery does not provide about pounds 45m - half of the shortfall between the development's costs and its commercial returns - the project would have to be abandoned, said Sir Angus. 'With no lottery funds we will have to stop and sell properties to repay our debts,' he said.

But ministers have criticised the Opera House's confidence. 'If they had even hinted that they should get lottery money they were off the wall . . . even assuming we get the Bill on to the statute book, it's not in our gift,' the Whitehall source said.

Instead, the Government is keen that opera projects outside London should receive lottery funds, including a 1,600-seat opera house at Salford, Greater Manchester, which has outline planning permission.

Robert Key, the national heritage minister, said: 'The Royal Opera House has got as its patrons . . . the good, the great and the super-rich. Maybe, in terms of artistic provision across the UK, we should be looking to expand opera outside London.'

Salford City Council hopes to raise most of the money it needs from the Government and European regional development funds. A 2,000-seat opera house is planned for Cardiff. A spokesman for the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation said: 'Like everyone else, we are focusing on the National Lottery for part of our funding.'

Why ENO caught a cold, page 9