Commissioning the Millennium

A thousand and one projects are seeking the Millennium millions. But how will the cash flow? Bev Cohen reports

SBHD: A thousand and one projects are seeking the Millennium millions. But how will the cash flow? Bev Cohen reports

SBHD: What is the Millennium Commission?

The Millennium Commission was set up by the Government but is not a quango. It functions as an independent body. It aims to fund capital projects relevant to the year 2000 and beyond. These are described by Heritage Secretary Stephen Dorrell as “lasting monuments to the achievements and aspirations of the United Kingdom”.

SBHD: How does the funding work?

The commission expects to have at least ú1.6bn funding available by 2000, and has received about ú3m a week from the National Lottery since it began in November. The commission has equal status with the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the National Lottery Charities Board, the Arts Council and the Sports Council. Each will receive 20 per cent of the National Lottery net proceeds.

SBHD: How and when will the money be spent?

Fifty per cent will be spent on about 12 major capital projects, each requesting some ú50m. The remainder will be allocated to smaller, community-based projects. A recent survey by campaign group London First revealed definite plans for capital developments by 42 organisations, each costing ú5m to ú10m. Events were planned by 31 organisations, and a further 83 said they would produce proposals.

SBHD: What is the timescale for Millennium funding applicants?

The initial three-page form covering basic application details has a 31 March deadline. The commission will send a more detailed form to successful entrants. A shortlist will be published in May of those with potential, but some might “fall by the wayside”, says Elrick. By September, the commission expects to have ú100m in the kitty and will be able to start the allocation of funds, although it may have to give grants in stages over the next five years. The application form process will take place annually until 2000. The commission expects projects to keep to their own set timescales, but completion by the end of 2000 is not a key criterion.

SBHD: What are the criteria for Millennium approval?

“We’re not here to fund mediocre projects!” says Elrick. The 200 proposals already received are “of a high standard – people are taking this seriously”, and about 600 more are expected by September. The commission is open to proposals from all over the UK. It will not favour deprived areas, each project is expected to “come up to scratch”. The theme of the year 2000 has to be central to applications. “We want unique projects, those which are applying to other National Lottery-funded organisations for support will have to pitch a millennium theme to us,” says Elrick. Lasting significance is a major factor. “We want imagination, innovation, they’ve got to prove their merit,” Elrick adds.

SBHD: What is the Millennium Festival?

Britain’s first nationwide festival since the 1977 Queen’s Silver Jubilee, it is expected to rival the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Festival of Britain in 1951. It will involve nationwide events throughout the year 2000. The festival will include a large exhibition, although its theme and location are yet to be decided. It is currently being organised by the Millennium Commission, which is setting up a competition to appoint a consortium to run it. This will be headed by Simon Jenkins, former editor of The Times, and it may be responsible for choosing designers.

SBHD: What is the London Millennium Study?

It is an action plan published by London First and associated organisations such as the London Arts Board, the Sports Council and British Telecom. It calls for an urgent effort to turn the Millennium Festival into a co-ordinated event worthy of the UK’s capital city. It reveals survey results showing a geographical bias towards activity in the centre of London and the banks of the Thames, also widespread uncertainty about the source of funding. Says Elrick: “London has been slow coming forward with ideas, unlike Leeds, Sheffield and Scotland, for example. But there is great potential for projects.” London has also been criticised for its lack of fresh ideas, and commission acting director Heather Wilkinson has stated publicly that London needs to come up with innovative ideas. But London First spokesman Robert Gordon Clark sees “no need to panic – the Millennium is still five years away. We are encouraging all sorts of London organisations to get cracking and start planning now”.

SBHD: Examples of projects seeking funding

*The Tate Gallery of Modern Art at London’s Bankside power station (over ú25m) by Swiss architect Herzog and de Meuron.

*A ú9.5m transformation of London’s South Bank Centre into a “people’s palace” designed by Richard Rogers Partnership.

*A London Millennium Big Wheel designed by architects David Marks and Julia Barfield.

*A ú50m National Science Centre in Hampshire’s Farnborough Airfield, which will approach Smithfield Design if successful.

*A ú100m Glasgow Millennium Tower by Richard Horden Associates, which is concurrent with a ú3m redevelopment of the 1938 Tait Tower. A feasibility study for the Tait Tower is being carried out by marketing consultant Neil Baxter Associates and Ian Ritchie is working on redesign plans.

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