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The BBC's Sanchia Berg
"More than half of the projects have yet to open in full"
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Monday, 7 August, 2000, 22:03 GMT 23:03 UK
Fears for Millennium projects
The Millennium Dome
Dome bosses were over optimistic in predicting visitor numbers
The president of the Museums Association says he fears many of the Millennium landmark projects across the country could go the way of the Dome.

There has to be some sort of safety net

Patrick Green
Patrick Green says several major schemes have, like the Dome, been over optimistic in their predictions of visitor numbers.

He wants the Millennium Commission to stop spending its money on new projects - and instead set up an endowment fund to bale out existing schemes which have experienced problems.

The Earth Centre in Doncaster, one of Britain's landmark Millennium projects, was set up with 50m of Lottery cash.

But the centre has re-invented itself after only attracting 70,000 visitors - compared to an estimated 250,000 - since last March.

The Tate Modern
Success story: The Tate Modern
It has now joined forces with the private sector and from next Spring will run residential courses for students so it will not have to rely solely on income from visitors.

And the 15m Sheffield-based National Centre for Popular Music, which opened in March 1999, ran up debts of 1.1m after failing to attract the number of visitors anticipated.

Mr Green said: "Estimating the number of visitors to a new attraction is a very, very difficult task.

"I have looked down the list of targets which some of these projects have and I think some of them are wildly optimistic."

Mr Green says two projects which have not yet been started - the 15m Millennium Tower in Portsmouth and the 27m Cardiff Centre - should be scrapped and the money used to support existing schemes.

"There is a good argument for saying that what is still in the kitty should be kept there to provide endowment funds for some of these projects to help them if they get into difficulties," he said.

"There needs to be some sort of safety net."

'Most things are working'

Some attractions, including the 106m Lowry Gallery in Salford and the Tate Modern in London, are hugely successful.

But more than half the projects planned to mark the millennium are still not completed and many of those will be relying on paying visitors as a major part of their business plans.

But Mike O'Connor, director of the Millennium Commission, whilst not ruling out the possibility of an endowment fund, said projects already in the pipeline would continue.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If you take risks you do run into the occasional problems but if you did not take risks you wouldn't get out of bed in the morning.

"And the prize to be gained here is a whole new generation of science centres, which are going to be as important to education as the old Victorian museums were to my generation.

"In terms of projects outside the Dome the story is actually pretty good. Most things are working and we are learning as we go along.

"What we are tending to do now is focus more on the commercial opportunities as we are with the Earth Centre, seeing how we can adapt the project in light of experience."

Initial predictions for the numbers of visitors to the 758m Dome were set at 15 million but these have since been reduced to just six million.

In May the Dome was given a 29m injection from Lottery funds and has a 43m bridging loan secured against its sale to Nomura at the end of the year.

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