Design: Take a look at Britain's new tourist traps

Will Millennium fever and lottery funding turn our country into a giant theme park?

Nonie Niesewand
Thursday 15 October 1998 23:02

Forget the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Churchill's grave and the pump room in Bath. Britain's traditional tourist attractions are about to be replaced by a solar-powered visitor centre in a disused colliery in Doncaster, a shopping centre with a 152-foot tower at Portsmouth Harbour, a Ferris Wheel in London and a flotation tank at Bath Spa.

At least, that's what Chris Smith, the Minister for Culture, Media and Sport and the British Tourist Authority have in mind as they present tourist attractions for 2000 at a press reception in Paris. Now that the BTA forecasts as many as 28.3 million visitors to Britain during 2000, spending around pounds 14.5bn, modern architecture is a national asset.

Last night, under the avuncular gaze of Chris Smith, the Ambassador Sir Michael Jay and his wife Sylvia hosted a party at the Paris Embassy - no vol-au-vents, Lady Jay only serves British food, even soft cheeses flown in freshly - to promote new British architecture abroad.

Scale models and computer images of nine projects around the country funded by lottery money - the tenth is the British Airways-sponsored Ferris wheel in London - introduced the French media and travel trade to visitor attractions.

The French already know how good our British architects are. After all, they gave them work in the lean Eighties as part of their public funded "grandes projets", but when they holiday in London, Buckingham Palace and the Beefeaters are the biggest attractions, not modern buildings. That's because there aren't many of them. When the rest of Europe invested in public funded grand projects, Britain preserved its 19th century buildings from the civic minded Victorians.

John Major's vision to free lottery money for cultural projects changed all that. For the first time ever, there is a building programme throughout Britain to mark the Millennium, "a period of renaissance and improvement," chirrups the British Tourist Authority.

"Britain is set to transform its cultural landscape with a multi-billion pound programme to redevelop, upgrade, and create brand new arts, science and leisure centres all over the country," the BTA chairman David Quarmby reveals. Yes, but not all of them are going to be tourist attractions, and a great many of them are not going to get off the ground.

The "transformer of our cultural landscape", Chris Smith, as chairman of the Millennium Commission, knows only too well the difficulties that lottery funded projects drag with them. The sell-by date for a start. Several Millennium Commission lottery-funded projects which already have their opening dates extended to the year 2001 still haven't broken ground: the Eden project for micro and macro climates in Cornwall has only just purchased the land.

Matched funding is a challenge that a lot of schemes simply won't be able to meet, and downsizing ambitious ideas - or making them more attractive to sponsors - has disastrous results. Below is a guide to the projects and their chances.

The Dome at Greenwich

Total cost: pounds 758m. pounds 399m from the Millennium Commission, pounds 150m from sponsors, pounds 194m ticket sales, pounds 15m disposable income. Opening: 31 December 1999. Promises: Fantastic day out. Problems: Air conditioning to produce 2,000 times more HFCs than CO2 system.

The Tate at Bankside

Total cost: pounds 130m. pounds 50m from the Millennium Commission, still about pounds 60m to raise. Opening: May 2000. Promises: Awesome building and curatorship, in harmony with the architecture by de Meuron and Hertzog. Problems: Downsizing meant no glass lift in the tower.

Millennium Bridge

Total cost: pounds 14m. pounds 7.2m Millennium Commission grant. Opening: April 2000. Promises: a 300m footbridge from St Paul's to the Tate at Bankside by Norman Foster. Problems: Anthony Caro's sculptural ramps got dumped. Escalating costs, from pounds 10m.

British Airways' London Eye

Total cost: pounds 31m. Sponsored by British Airways and run by Madame Tussauds. Opening: Spring 2000. Promises: the ferris wheel is the fourth largest construction in London, with 32 capsules made in France each carrying 25 passengers.

Problems: No lottery funding awarded.

Portsmouth Harbour

Total cost: pounds 85.7m, with pounds 40m from the Millennium Commission. Opening: October 2000, but still needs planning permission. Promises: 165-metre/ 500-foot tower by Henry Greentree in a shopping centre. Problems: Plans to drop the landmark tower have been thwarted.

Bath Spa

Total cost: pounds 13.5m. pounds 6.7m from Millennium Commission. Opens: October 2000. Promises: a glass bathhouse linking four historic sites by Nick Grimshaw taps into hot springs. Problems: no contract signed yet, so the proposed opening date seems unlikely.

Earth Centre, Doncaster

Total cost: pounds 100m. pounds 50m from the Millennium Commission. Opening: April 1999. Promises: earnest but unexciting ecological visitor centre in a disused colliery. Problems: sourcing `green' products and the final-phase Ark, by Future Systems, has been put on hold indefinitely.

Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh

Total cost pounds 33.4m. Millennium Commission grant, pounds 15.65m. Opening: April 1999.

Promises: Feel the earth move in a Mini-dome by Michael Hopkins. Problems: Some jealousy from other lottery-funded applicants who see Scotland getting EU-matched funding easily.

Cardiff Bay Millennium Centre, Wales

Total cost: pounds 90.4m. pounds 27m from the Millennium Commission. Opening: June 2001. Promises: the Welsh in full voice in a new home for the National Opera by Percy Thomas Partnerships. Problems: Controversial successor to Zaha Hadid's opera house.

Botanic Gardens, Middleton, Wales

Total cost: pounds 43.3m,. pounds 21.7m from the Millennium Commission. Opening: April 2000. Promises: Hothouse based on Joseph Paxton's original design, by Norman Foster, nurturing ideas from the deputy director of Kew Gardens. Problems: Still in search of some funding.

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