An arts centre devoted to the life of the artist LS Lowry was yesterday given a pounds 64m grant from National Lottery distributors, the largest ever grant outside London from Lottery funds.
The Lowry Centre, in Salford, Greater Manchester, is the first project to receive money from the joint coffers of the Arts Council, the Millennium Commission and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The centre, the sixth landmark project planned for the Millennium celebrations in four years' time, will house galleries displaying the works of the artist who created the celebrated "Matchstick Men" paintings, as well as two theatres and a virtual-reality site linked to the University of Salford.
The award, which came on the 20th anniversary of Lowry's death, is the second largest to come from Lottery money, after the pounds 78.5m grant to the Royal Opera House, in London. The Lowry Centre is expected to create 6,500 jobs and attract 2.5 million visitors a year to Salford Quays. It is also expected to generate pounds 100m in private investment and give the local economy a pounds 4m boost. The total cost of the project is estimated at pounds 127m.
The Arts Council chairman, Lord Gowrie, said yesterday that he was confident the Lowry Centre would "be a magnet to attract artists from far and wide, and it will be especially beneficial to the people of Salford, Manchester and the entire north-west".
The Arts Council contributed pounds 41.1m of the grant, the Millennium Commission gave pounds 15.65m and the Heritage Lottery Fund pounds 7.65m.
The leader of Salford City Council, Bill Hinds, hailed the decision as "Salford's greatest day in living memory".
The actors Albert Finney and Ben Kingsley, who were both born in Salford, gave the grants a ringing endorsement. "Not just the city of Salford and the great north-west, but performing arts across Britain will benefit from this terrific concept," Finney said.
Other beneficiaries of pounds 34m in Millennium Commission grants announced yesterday included plans for east London's answer to Regent's Park, or Hyde Park. The Borough of Tower Hamlets, which received pounds 12.3m, plans to build Mile End Park, a pounds 24.6m park with themed areas that will link the East End areas of the Grand Union Canal.
Another green scheme, an ecologically friendly pathway around Peterborough, was given pounds 5.6m of its pounds 11.1m costs. The project will give people in Peterborough cycleways, footpaths and three heritage centres, and is likely to receive 1 million visitors a year.
The Millennium Commission has to date supported 311 projects with pounds 370m of Lottery money.
It received strong criticism in December after the commission refused money to Cardiff's bid for a Bay Opera House, and it is expected to announce today a decision on whether to give money to refurbish Cardiff Arms Park, the Welsh National Rugby stadium.
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