Plan for Cardiff opera house close to collapse

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The Independent Online
THE FUTURE of the controversial Cardiff Bay Opera House proposal was in danger of collapse yesterday as Lord Crickhowell, the man behind it, admitted he had given the project until the end of next month to secure government funding or be abandoned.

The pounds 86m bid for an opera house to be built in Cardiff by 2000 had been expected to get some financial support from the Millennium Commission, the government organisation which gives lottery money to big projects in Britain. But the commission refused support in its December round of grants, citing lack of financial and design preparation.

Lord Crickhowell, chairman of the Cardiff Bay Opera Trust, said that after four years of work on the project and pounds 5m spent on drawing up plans, the scheme had no future unless he could persuade the Government to provide financial aid.

"The reality is that we have got a limited amount of funding," said Lord Crickhowell last night, "and we really have to have some positive move by next month." He said the commission's rejection of architect Zaha Hadid's Modernist design of the building, which caused uproar in Cardiff, was misguided.

Lord Crickhowell's pessimistic predictions about the project's future were made after an inconclusive meeting he and his team had on Friday with the Secretary of State for Heritage, Virginia Bottomley, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, both of whom sit on the Millennium Commission.

The commission rejected accusations that it had refused funding to the opera house because of criticism of the design, and that the arguably more popular plan for a new Welsh rugby stadium was preferred.

At the Opera Trust office, staff were surprised to hear of Lord Crickhowell's February deadline. "If that's a view he's expressed," said project director Mandy Wix, "it's not one we've heard."

There is concern among trustees that the Millennium commissioners had not been fully briefed when they made their decision. The commission's chief executive, Jennifer Page, said during a visit to Cardiff in December that they had only seen summaries of the advisers' report.

n The Royal Opera House, threatened with homelessness for two seasons from autumn 1997 while its Covent Garden home is overhauled, has not yet abandoned plans to move temporarily into a new theatre at Tower Bridge, although its partner, the Disney Corporation, has pulled out. On Friday the ROH head of public affairs, Keith Cooper, said: "There are property developers [Greater London Enterprises] working on it. It's still our favoured location."