The Heritage Lottery Fund is suffering from a drought in funds that will threaten the quality of Britain's civic architecture, experts have warned.
Both the Civic Trust and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) are alarmed that last year's downturn in Lottery ticket sales will 'seriously damage' architecture in this country.
Lottery sales suffered a drastic decline in 2002 and the AJ has learned that the Heritage Lottery Fund - which helped support projects such as Wilkinson Eyre's Millennium Bridge and Alsop & Störmer's Peckham Library - has seen its funding fall correspondingly.
The cash available for grants dropped from £350 million last year to £280 million in 2003.
A DCMS spokesman admitted that the government 'believes this trend will persist'.
'[DCMS secretary of state] Tessa Jowell recognises that large-scale capital schemes will have to start looking elsewhere for funding, ' the spokesman said. 'She believes these projects cannot turn to the Lottery and expect to get the cash they need.' And he said that the cash shortage will result in a greater emphasis on 'micro-grants', with a 'much smaller' percentage of the cash going to 'landmark' projects.
'What architects need to understand is that the Heritage Lottery Fund will never again be the golden goose it was until two years ago, ' the spokesman added.
The Civic Trust's head of awards, Eleanor Murkett, agreed that a 'serious dip' in the standard of entries is expected next year 'because of the cash drying up'. 'There is no doubt that we are seeing the end of the Lottery-funded boom, ' she said.
'We are concerned about where the money will come from in future to fund major urban design schemes, ' Murkett said. 'We are also worried that any new cash sources may not demand the same high design standards. It is a shame because we have seen an amazing improvement in the standard of projects since the inception of the Lottery.'
A Heritage Lottery Fund statement conceded that the reduction in cash will 'not benefit architecture', but insisted that the fall in Lottery sales 'will soon be arrested'.
'However, the money we have to spend is in decline, ' the statement continues, 'and we would recommend that this is something for architects to seriously consider.'
The RIBA's head of awards, Tony Chapman, agreed that there will 'almost inevitably' be a drop in Lottery-funded schemes. But he insisted this might not be detrimental. 'We will just see different kinds of projects coming through, ' he said.