Smith: Ours is the best millennium

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S PLANS for celebrating the millennium are the most ambitious in the world, Chris Smith said yesterday. But the festivities will not succeed unless the British people throw their hearts into them, warned the Secretary of State for Culture.

More than pounds 2bn is being spent by the Millennium Commission on projects that will open across the country at a rate of one a week from now until the end of 2000.

Mr Smith said the celebrations would make the UK the "global capital of the millennium" and earn it more than pounds 2.5bn from increased tourism.

"The scale and quality of the enterprise ... is unparalleled," he said. "We've got further, faster in preparing for this year of celebration than any other country, and every time I go around the world, meeting my colleagues in other governments, they say how much they admire what we have done."

But with preparations in place and with less than a year to go, Mr Smith said the British people had to support the ambitious plans. "The millennium is nothing if it does not carry a significance in people's hearts. People will not get involved in activities just for the sake of it," he said. "They will do so because they realise that the millennium is an extraordinary moment in time and, as such, offers the ideal opportunity to undertake something new, positive and interesting."

Mr Smith said that he was "absolutely confident" the Millennium Dome and the Jubilee Line underground extension, which is due to carry hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Dome, would be completed in time.

He said the Dome accounted for only one-fifth of the Millennium Commission's spending. There was one capital project for every 30 square miles of the country, including the Dynamic Earth visitor centre on geology and evolution in Scotland, which was awarded pounds 15m, and a national space science centre in Leicester,which was granted pounds 23.2m. Smaller awards of about pounds 2,000 are to be given to more than 40,000 people for local educational, environmental and community projects. Some of the first recipients will meet the Prime Minister today.

The British economy was also benefiting from the jobs boost created by many of the projects, Mr Smith said. Two thousand people are building the Dome, for example, and another 5,000 will be employed during the year it is open.

The Secretary of State for Culture was speaking to an audience representing organisations preparing for year 2000 celebrations. It was his first appearance with his full team of millennium ministers, including Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Peter Mandelson's successor in charge of the Dome project. "We have just 346 days to get it right, but I am absolutely sure we will," Mr Smith said.

Figures from the British Tourist Authority predict that the annual total of overseas visitors will increase from 25.5 million in 1997 to 27.5 million in 2000, spending pounds 14.7bn.

What About the Rest?

US: Has founded the White House Millennium Council to celebrate the accomplishments of "this American century" and convey its heritage to future generations. Plans include: Connecting every classroom to the Internet; three-year preservation plan for the national archives; a free, year-long artistic festival at the Kennedy Center; tripling the size of the Peace Corps volunteers global learning partnership programme

Australia: Millennium postponed to 2001 because of the Sydney Olympics in 2000; massive waterfront party planned for New Year's Eve

New Zealand: Celebrations are focused on the east coast town of Gisborne, on the North Island, where the first sunrise of 2000 (after the tiny nearby island of Pitt) will be over Mount Hikurangi. Events include: A Pacific tall ships festival; a 1,000km First To The Sun bicycle ride for 2,000 people from Auckland to Gisborne; a festival of Maori culture and contemporary music. In Auckland, the city's millennium project group is staging a series of concerts

Germany: No special celebrations planned

Brazil: Extra spectacular fireworks display on Copacabana beach

France: The state is setting aside 400 million francs (about pounds 36m), boosted with money from local authorities and business sponsors to celebrate. Plans include: A mass picnic on Bastille Day; a series of science seminars; concerts along the length of the Paris ringroad; grants to 10 young inventors

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