Blair to decide fate of Millennium exhibition

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Tony Blair will make a final decision today on the future of the Millennium Exhibition at Greenwich amid growing calls for it to be scrapped.

Mr Blair will make the decision himself and present it to Cabinet tomorrow.

Although Mr Blair is known to favour going ahead with the project which will cost pounds 780m - including up to pounds 450m of public money - senior Labour sources were saying last night that it will almost certainly be scrapped because it does not appear financially viable.

Yesterday, in one of the first putative backbench revolts of the new Parliament, over Labour 20 MPs supported a motion tabled by a new Labour backbencher, Nick Palmer MP for Broxtowe, calling for the project to be abandoned. The MPs are not only concerned at the waste of the lottery money going into the project, but are also questioning the potential waste of private sector sponsorship. Dr Palmer said: "There is only a finite amount available for sponsorship from business. The Exhibition will suck up all the money, which could go to projects around the country." Much of the opposition is from Midlands MPs who are already annoyed that so much of lottery funding has gone to London.

Labour MPs are also concerned that so much money is being spent on an exhibition when there is a desperate shortage of funds for health and education.

However, sources close to the project said the MPs have misunderstood the basis of the funding: "This is money earmarked by the Millennium Commission to celebrate the millennium. It cannot be diverted to health and education."

Although a considerable amount has been spent clearing contamination from the land at Greenwich, only around pounds 25m is what the Millennium Commission calls "net of legacy" - that is money that would be wasted, mainly by having to pay compensation for breaking contracts with companies.

While business in London has generally supported the project, there has been a noticeable cooling in the past few days as it has become clear that the scheme is in trouble again.