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Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 05:53 GMT 06:53 UK
Go-ahead at last for national arts arena
Scale model of the Wales Millennium Centre
Tenders for the building work are now being invited
The Welsh Assembly has given the nod for the 92m Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) after months of discussion over spiralling costs.

Finance Minister Edwina Hart revealed on Thursday that the project is ready to go to tender - and that the assembly will be looking for a fixed price contract for the building work.

Our communities, our creative industry in Wales and also our country's international profile will benefit from this cultural development

Welsh Finance Minister Jenny Randerson

"We are laying the foundations for a cultural centre which will not only enable creativity in Wales to flourish but will also promote the Welsh culture and the Welsh success story to the rest of Europe and beyond," she said.

In recent months, assembly members have seen the bill for constructing the centre soar from 75m to 92m.

After the initial surprise, they are now ready to see if a company can build it for within that budget - with guarantees attached.

The appointment of Sir David Rowe Beddoe as the new chairman of the WMC helped quell fears.

"As public funds are involved we have a responsibility to ensure that the Wales Millennium Centre is delivered at an acceptable cost...," said Ms Randerson.

Finance Minister Edwina Hart
Finance minister Edwina Hart: Green light

"But let's not forget this is good news for Wales and the advantages the Wales Millennium Centre can offer will be far reaching.

"Our communities, our creative industry in Wales and also our country's international profile will benefit from this cultural development."

Some questions do remain, however, such as the year-on-year funding of the centre with the business plan, which is seen by some as unrealistic.

Issues like this are due to be scrutinised in May when the project goes before the assembly's culture committee.

And last week, theatre managers in Wales wrote to the assembly to voice concerns about the viability of a proposed new showcase for the arts.

Creu Cymru - an umbrella group representing 31 theatre venues in Wales - lobbied the assembly, spelling out its concerns that the centre would damage other venues.

Rhodri Morgan
Rhodri Morgan: Concerns over business plan

The Wales Millennium Centre project has been dogged by delays and rows over funding for several years.

Back in December, the project's backers presented new proposals to the assembly aimed to help allay fears about its feasibility.

Core features - including the dramatic slate and steel cladding of the building and the space allocated to the lyric theatre - remained unchanged.

But cost savings were made by changing the internal layout and reducing the height and complexity of the design.

Work was due to start this spring, but assembly First Minister Rhodri Morgan insisted money would not be released until he is satisfied with the centre's business plan.

Back in November it emerged that Cardiff Bay developers Grosvenor Waterside had made contingency plans to sell the 4.7-acre site if building work had not started within 12 months.

BBC Wales's Nick Palit
"Now the AMs have got over the shock of the bill rising to 92m they're to see if the company can build it within budget."

BBC News Online looks at how the arts are funded in the UKArts funding
How the UK's cash for the arts is spent
See also:

10 Oct 00 | Wales
Cash call for Millennium Centre
04 Oct 00 | Wales
No 'Dome' for the bay - Morgan
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