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Senior Tory calls for a probe into lottery projects

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The Tories have raised the stakes on lottery projects by calling for an Audit Commission probe, following news that Sheffield's highly publicised pop museum is in deep trouble.

Peter Ainsworth, shadow culture secretary, demanded more details on projects after a year of repeated requests were met with silence from the Millennium Commission.

His move comes as Sheffield's National Centre for Popular Music drafted in a new director and shed seven staff in a fight for survival. Branson Coates' project opened last March with £11 million of the £15 million cost coming from the Arts Council. But the 104,000 visitors in the first six months suggests the first year target of 400,000 is too optimistic. The new director, Martin King, a former manager at Madame Tussauds, will have talks with the Arts Council and Sheffield Council on improving the centre, which has already made nine staff redundant.

Ainsworth told the aj tension was mounting on some Millennium Commission landmark projects. He had been approached by one source from a major project saying it would be a disaster and pleading with him to press the government to change the funding rules. They wanted the Millennium Commission to buy out the existing landmark projects that were not getting private money. The trouble with too many people 'fishing in the same corporate fund for money' was that there was a risk we would end up with 'three-legged white elephants', said the mp.

'I have not received straight answers to my questions which is frustrating because there is a legitimate public interest,' said Ainsworth. 'I have submitted evidence to the commission about the lack of clarity on projects over running and not getting matching funding.'

Other Millennium projects have reported mixed progress:

Herzog & de Meuron's Tate Gallery of Modern Art is on target to open in May 2000 and has secured all but £10 million of the £150 million total. A third of the total is from the Millennium Commission. The Tate expects three million visitors in the first year followed by two million the following year. Project director Dawn Austwick said she was unfazed by the visitor target even though Bilbao's Guggenheim achieved only 1.4 million. 'That isn't in London and the existing Tate has two million visits a year.' The project is also banking on the Globe Theatre to act as a strong additional pull to the area.

The Earth Centre in Doncaster opened its first phase, a visitor centre, in April. It has cut entry price from £8.95 to £4.95 to 're-address things'. Some 30,000 people were reported to have visited the environmental theme park in Its first three months, but the first-year target is 500,000. The second phase, including a conference centre and bike track, is due to start a the end of the year and a third phase next winter. The total cost is £100 million with half from the commission.

Brock Carmichael's £54 million National Discovery Centre in Liverpool was scrapped earlier this month (aj 9.9.99) after delays in securing funding, £27 million of which was due from the Millennium Commission. The Court of Appeal ruled that a rival shopping scheme could go ahead, killing off the 12,000m2 media factory, 7000m2 leisure block and landscaped park.

Chris Wilkinson Architects' Magna project in Rotherham started on site at the end of July. The nine-storey conversion of a former steelworks is due to open in 2001 with 300,000 visitors expected in the first year. Like other unfinished Millennium projects, the organisers were confident targets would be met and all funding secured.

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