Scots set to lose out in millennium overspend

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A pounds 78m project to renew the canal linking Edinburgh and Glasgow with the help of Millennium Commission cash is being put in jeopardy by threat- ened overspending on the Greenwich Exhibition, according to Scottish MPs.

The MPs fear that the Millennium Link plan, which needs pounds 30m of Millennium Commission cash, is at risk. They will be seeking an early meeting with Virginia Bottomley, the Heritage Secretary, when Parliament resumes next week.

The MPs point to potential overspending on the Greenwich Exhibition which has been promised pounds 200m of Commission money but has not been able to attract matching funding from the private sector. The project's pounds 700m budget has already been rejected by the Commission because it lacks detail.

The Millennium Link project aims to regenerate the Forth & Clyde Union canals which have been blocked off for 60 years. Its main focus will be the "Anto- nine Wheel", a giant revolving boat lift which will transfer boats between the two canals at Falkirk to replace 11 abandoned locks.

British Waterways, which is promoting the scheme, but not putting in any money, said it expects that 10 million visitors will be attracted to the Link each year and that it would be used by around 500 boats and yachts.

Tony Worthington, MP for Clydebank and Milngavie, said: "We don't understand why the Millennium Commission refuses to give this scheme the go-ahead when all the matching funding is already in place." Scottish Enterprise has pro- mised pounds 16m and the rest will come from local authorities and businesses. A consultants' report suggested that 4,200 permanent jobs would be created and pounds 400m of private sector investment attracted by the scheme for the 70-mile link.

The scheme, first put forward nearly two years ago, was considered by the Commission in December but no decision was taken. The Scottish MPs suspect this is because of concern that Greewnich will need more than pounds 200m of Millennium funding.

Mr Worthington said: "We are not against the project at Greenwich, but the costs do seem to be getting out of hand, putting other projects in jeopardy. There is a fixed pot of money and if Greenwich's costs escalate, then the money has to come from somewhere."

Sam Galbraith MP, who represents Strathkelvin and Bearsden, said: "This is such a val- uable project that it seems amazing that the go-ahead has not been given. It has enormous potential for regenerating large swathes of Scotland as it goes through many very deprived areas. There is no possible reason why it is being delayed except for worries about money."

Mr Galbraith challenged the Commission to put out a statement guaranteeing that only pounds 200m would be spent on Greenwich.

A spokeswoman for the Commission said last night that pounds 1bn had been allocated for capital projects which was separate from the pounds 200m for the Exhibition. She said: "So far, pounds 700m out of the pounds 1bn has been allocated."