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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 June 2006, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Aquarium scheme cash 'restricted'
Support is growing for a research complex facing a cash crisis
A group behind plans for the world's largest freshwater aquarium have received 3m in loans - after being promised 4m, it has been revealed.

Peter May, the National Institute for Research into Aquatic Habitats (Nirah) chairman, said the cash had been held up by "state aid restrictions".

"About 600,000 was still needed to get planning permission," he said.

Almost 400 people met at Bedford's Corn Exchange on Monday to call on Beds County Council to save the project.

Mr May said Nirah was promised loans of 4m from Bedfordshire County Council and the East of England Development Agency to take the project to the stage of acquiring outline planning permission for the former quarry site.

Village support

He said: "So far only 3m has been received, but to submit applications to secure planning permission at least another 600,000 is needed.

"At the House of Commons a deal was struck under which 300,000 would be supplied by the private sector and then matched by the council.

"The council's share was now not forthcoming for reasons of "state aid" restrictions," he said.

These are funding restrictions set by European directives to control support of commercial ventures with public sector money.

John Bocyzc, deputy head teacher at Stewartby School, said after he had heard the project was at risk he had rallied support from people in the village and had received 200 letters of support within 48 hours.

He handed these to the Mayor of Bedford, Frank Branston, who had called the meeting.

He called on the county council to make sure the Nirah project would happen.

One woman pledged 50 to the campaign so that her grandchildren would be able to enjoy the aquarium when it was built.

Others took away more than 500 petition forms to collect signatures to put pressure on the county council.

Professor Chris Shaw, one of the founding scientists of Nirah, talked to the audience about its scientific and conservation benefits.

Nirah directors must now decide on their next step as money is still needed to continue or they would have to go into administration.

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