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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 June, 2003, 05:11 GMT 06:11 UK
White elephants and worthwhile causes
by Simon Page
BBC News Online

Wembley Stadium
A 120m grant to buy Wembley Stadium was heavily criticised
Between them, the Millennium Dome, Commonwealth Games, Wembley Stadium, the Royal Opera House and Sadler's Wells Theatre have received over 1bn in lottery grants. BBC News Online asks if these landmark projects have a value to match their cost.

David McNeill from the Arts Council of England says: "I think people should know that for every Opera House there are a hundred brass bands we've helped."

It gets to the heart of a problem which, eight years into its existence, the lottery distributors are trying to address: The big projects get all the publicity while the thousands of small scale community schemes go unnoticed.

Last year a public consultation on lottery funding concluded: "There is (public) agreement that the (Millennium) Dome was a waste of good causes funds and that this project in itself has tarnished the supply of funds to large capital projects."

It is not alone, as David McNeill acknowledges, pointing to two projects jointly funded to the tune of 18m: "One of the harder lessons we've learned is there is no point putting up a brand new building in a part of the world where no one wants to go to it.

"The Ark in Stockton-on-Tees didn't work because people didn't want to go there. It was a similar story with the Museum of Popular Music which was built in the wrong part of Sheffield."

'Pride in the lottery'

But these are just three of a near 100,000 awards given, ranging in value from 500 to the 628m ploughed into the Dome.

Richard Caborn, a minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), told BBC News Online: "It's true that early on the lottery tended mainly to fund big capital projects.

Millennium Dome

"The number of smaller grants going to community groups has more than trebled since the 1998 (government) reforms. That means that many more projects are being funded than previously.

"We should take pride in some of the big schemes that the lottery has helped fund, but we should be equally proud of all the other more local projects which have been funded by the Lottery which can make a real difference to us on a daily basis but which don't necessarily hit the headlines.

"It is one of the lottery's great strengths that it can and does fund so many different kinds of projects.

Some, like Tim Jones from Birmingham City Council, argue the big projects are necessary to help spread awareness of lottery funding.

Wider benefits

Mr Jones, project manager of the 31m (13.5m from lottery funds) project to renovate Birmingham's Town Hall, said: "These high profile schemes have a major impact way beyond the projects themselves.

"Because of the profile of the Town Hall, I've been approached by several organisations asking how they would go about securing funding."

Birmingham Town Hall
The refurbishment of Birmingham Town Hall is attracting other bids
For different reasons, Laura Willoughby, a councillor from Islington, agrees with Mr Jones: "These projects contribute to the cultural industry in the area and provide projects for the community.

"The Sadler's Wells Theatre project (73m in lottery funding) created spaces which are used by the community and especially by schools.

"There's no evidence that funding major schemes prevents funding for other smaller projects in Islington. We don't seem to be competing with Sadler's Wells and projects like it.

"These are nationally prestigious projects which we have in our borough. Their existence improves the amount of spending in the area and brings people into the borough. This in turn helps sustain services and the economy around the theatre."

The lottery losers

Similarly, the Commonwealth Games (123.5m from the lottery) helped regenerate east Manchester while improvements in the Digbeth area of Birmingham were prompted by the 50m Millennium Point attraction.

The problem remains, though, that the public prefer community based projects to the giant landmark schemes. This was a further finding of last year's consultation.

While the major cities can point to at least one big money project, places like Hart in Hampshire may find it more difficult to feel part of the lottery money-go-round.

Hart has received less grants per head of population than any other local authority area in the UK.

The 60 awards in the borough range from 312,829 for the local cricket club to 500 for the Holy Ridiculous entertainment group. More worthy than the Dome? Well, if they do not get publicised, who would know?

Next: London bias. Does the capital receive the lion's share of lottery funds?

Who spends 'our' lottery money?
04 Jun 03  |  England
University buys pop centre
20 Feb 03  |  England
Manchester: A Commonwealth winner?
25 Jul 02  |  Commonwealth Games 2002
Government's Dome handling attacked
01 Feb 02  |  Politics
Museums exhibit lack of appeal
19 Jan 00  |  UK News

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