The distribution of billions of pounds of lottery proceeds to the arts, sport, heritage, charities and the millennium celebrations has led to the largest collection of more or less simultaneous public construction projects in this country's history.
New theatres, concert halls, museums, art galleries and sports stadia have been going up all over Britain. At the same time, renovation and reconstruction projects have further added to the workload of architects, contractors, builders' labourers, materials and equipment suppliers, and everyone else connected with the construction industry. Moreover, with this almost unbelievable proliferation of projects has come the largest single – if not necessarily co-ordinated – programme of urban regeneration since the industrial revolution.
The recent death of Sir Leslie Martin, the architect of the Royal Festival Hall, might remind us that the hall is the only surviving building that is connected in the public mind with the 1951 Festival of Britain. It is a fine building, which still looks modern and innovative after nearly half a century.
But the Festival Hall's arrival did not lead to the regeneration of London's South Bank. Today, it stands marooned among a handful of later but mostly unprepossessing arts buildings, surrounded by dereliction, menacing skateboarders and the pathos of beggars and their mournful dogs. Indeed, only now is there a cohesive plan for the regeneration of the South Bank, and lottery money is helping to fund it.
The lottery is also ensuring that the millennium celebrations will be remembered for many years to come in the buildings spawned by "good cause" money and the urban regeneration it has engendered. Look at the much-derided dome. Its site at Greenwich, on what was once poisonously contaminated land, was chosen deliberately and specifically for its regeneration potential.
And, whatever view is taken of the success or otherwise of the dome itself, Greenwich council is thrilled by the successful regeneration. Not only has the land been reclaimed: unemployment rates on the wider waterfront have halved in five years. Greenwich council estimates that 7000 jobs were created in the borough last year because of the dome. Something like 13 000 jobs have been created in construction and operation. It is estimated that, over the next seven years, the project will help create 25 000 jobs in the Thames Gateway.
It is claimed, too, that there has been a positive environmental impact. The pier area has even become a bird sanctuary. And, with the long life for the dome promised by its purchase by Nomura, things are likely to get better still, with additional major construction projects creating still more jobs in building.
And, whatever view is taken of the dome, Greenwich is thrilled by the regeneration
Nor is the dome the only millennium regeneration project. In Salford, Glasgow, Cardiff, Walsall and many other places, building projects have created major regeneration gains. Even something already as charming as Southport pier has used lottery money to provide building jobs and regenerate what had become a run-down seafront.
The Millennium Lottery Fund will soon be wound up. But the lottery, whoever gets to run it, will go on. There are many, including me, who believe that the original lottery "good cause" categories have been too restrictive.
Many would like to see some of those billions spent on health and education. If so, there could be more hospitals and schools newly built or refurbished, in addition to still more arts and sporting facilities. And then there are the rescue projects: some are already getting or applying for lottery money. These include – in one corner of Manchester alone – listed buildings such as Gorton Monastery and the Victoria Baths.
Gorton Monastery and the baths are worth saving, as are similar deserving cases all over the country. But what is especially significant is that these buildings have been allowed to decline in areas that have declined along with them: areas that were once major industrial centres, but whose factories have closed.
These are not just facelifts for individual buildings. They, too, are part of major urban regeneration – in an area that should also benefit from the regenerative aspects of the Commonwealth Games (a subject to which we should return).
So it really is important who wins the new lottery licence, because the more successful the lottery is in attracting punters, the greater the benefits for the building industry.
The Right Honourable Gerald Kaufman is MP for Manchester Gorton and chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.