Tyneside project is awarded second-biggest lottery grant

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AN EXTRAVAGANT centre for music, designed by the architect Lord Foster of Thames Bank, was awarded pounds 43.8m in the latest round of National Lottery grants.

The curved, glass-fronted building in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, will house a concert hall and a music school and be a base for the Northern Sinfonia Orchestra.

It is the second-biggest award to be handed out since the grants began - the largest so far is pounds 78.5m to the Royal Opera House.

The music centre was one of four projects to share the bulk of the money being distributed by the Arts Council yesterday, with the north and south of the country benefiting.

Other projects that were awarded grants were the Laban Centre in Deptford, east London, a dance and music centre, which received pounds 12m for a project that will include a 300-seat theatre.

Hampstead Theatre in north London was awarded pounds 9.8m to replace the existing theatre, which was built as a temporary structure 37 years ago. Liverpool city centre was given pounds 3.7m for a new multimedia centre.

Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said: "There is an enormous amount of evidence that where you have really vibrant arts projects you can get a real sense of self-confidence within a community and this is the starting-point for social and economic regeneration."

The Gateshead Music Centre, which costs a total of pounds 62m, is scheduled to open in 2002.

Situated on the south bank of the River Tyne next to the famous bridge, the land has been derelict for several years and the site is part of a redevelopment project. George Gill, the leader of Gateshead Council, said: "We have been needing something like this for the last 30 years; now we are going to have a site second to none in the country and possibly in Europe.

"This will be one of the finest buildings in the world for all kinds of music as well as a breathtaking new landmark for the North-east. We have worked hard to change the image of Gateshead over the past 10 years ... and the council is now looking forward to creating one of the finest centres for music and the arts in Europe." The centre will include a concert hall designed to seat 1,650 and the project's backers expect that 500,000 people a year will visit.

It is the latest in a number of projects, including the statue The Angel of the North, which towers over the A1, the MetroCentre, a vast shopping precinct, and the Gateshead International Stadium, which have all been designed to transform the image of the town.

The council hopes the projects will help Gateshead in its joint bid with Newcastle to be chosen as the European Capital of Culture in 2008.