Opera house instead of casino? - Thursday 1st of May 2008

A £250 million opera house is being planned as Manchesters `payback for being denied the countrys first super casino.

The ambitious development would see the worlds leading singers performing at the venue in east Manchester - the area let down by the governments U-turn on expanding the gambling industry.

Talks are already underway between the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and the city council about building a national opera house in the north. It is on a list of proposals being considered by a ministerial task force headed by Salford MP Hazel Blears set up to regenerate east Manchester after the collapse of the super casino bid.

The opera house scheme is understood to be the one personally favoured by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Unlike the super casino, a National Opera House would have to be built with public money. A council source told the MEN it was hoped the opera house would be the main attraction in a wider regeneration package, going some way to creating the 3,000 jobs promised by the casino bid.

Tony Hall, chief executive of the Royal Opera House, said: “Manchester has a strong track record of using culture to drive urban regeneration, we are excited about how this might progress our programme of getting the work of the Royal Opera House to as wide an audience as possible.”

Manchester Blackley MP Graham Stringer said: “It would go some way to providing compensation for a casino and be a great feather in Manchesters cap.

"Still, I remain sceptical until I see the colour of the governments money; how the numbers stack up; whether there will be further regeneration; and whether there will be a need for a council tax subsidy.

“The real disappointments are that a casino would have cost the taxpayer nothing.”

Tony Lloyd, MP for Manchester Central said: "It would be great news for Manchester to have something as prestigious as this. It would be a really exciting development in any part of the city but I would be particularly delighted if it came to east Manchester.”

Local opera star Jon Christos, who yesterday performed at the Professional Footballers Association awards, said: “Manchester is a cosmopolitan city that already attracts people to the city for music events. However, it should offer contemporary shows that will appeal to Joe Public and not just traditional opera fans."

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