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Arts Council grant pledge as architecture unit awaits fait

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The Arts Council restated its support for architecture this week by promising £65 million for two major schemes, despite the ongoing battle over its architecture unit.

The council said that £25 million would be set aside to develop the South Bank area around the Hayward Gallery and Royal Festival Hall. The original glass wave by Richard Rogers Partnership was dumped this March after a £75 million bid for lottery money was rejected. Another competition is expected to be launched for a scaled-down design but no date has been finalised.

The council also said that £40 million would be available for a music complex in Gateshead, designed by Foster and Partners. It quashed rumours that a third scheme, a theatre design by Erick van Egeraat for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, had been scrapped through lack of money.

A spokeswoman said: 'The three projects are very important to us. They have all been told what not to go above because the way the lottery is working at the moment, it is easier for groups to at least know what money is available.' She warned however that applications must meet the usual criteria on public benefit and financial stability to be guaranteed the cash.

Meanwhile, the future of the Arts Council's architecture unit is in the balance. Its response to culture secretary Chris Smith's July spending review said little on the unit's future. The council said it is keen to keep the unit, but was doing its own spending review and restructuring as well as waiting for Smith's final word. It is not taking on any new staff or a new head.

Last week's Arts Council response also called for a review of the Royal Fine Art Commission's role and reallocation of some of its budget for regional architecture or urban design officers.

But the rfac said it is willing to take over the unit. Its response to the review said it is uniquely placed to be a nationally recognised body promoting good design, and that it is 'first and foremost independent', answerable only to Parliament.

The commission told the aj it had 75 years' experience and expertise in assessing individual designs. 'The Arts Council is chiefly concerned with fine or performing arts, and nobody would claim architecture is central to its concerns,' it said.

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