22nd November: THUMBS DOWN FROM THE DOT.COMS On 22nd November, The Guardian did its own bit of market research. A Legacy spokesman had said that their market research had shown there was a huge demand for businesses to move into the dome, but this was not confirmed by IT companies contacted by the Guardian. There appeared to be no sign of the optimism expressed by Lord Falconer that it was going to be a booming attraction. Some leading internet firms warned the government to keep its hands off the dome if the troubled project is to have any chance of succeeding as a dot.com business park. Legacy is relying on the NMEC taking up to five months to decommission the dome. Initially, it will occupy buildings on the site, not the dome itself, until there is demand to build office space. It is vague about the phasing of development, but a spokesman promised that the dome will not be left dark and unused.

Legacy is also assuming that few of the 14,000 people who could work there will arrive by car because there is minimal parking space at the moment. Many internet firms expressed scepticism that firms would be interested in relocating there, saying the dome had "one hell of an image problem". City investors added that following the dot.com crash in March few internet companies could afford to move to the dome unless there was substantial investment in infrastructure, and incentives such as cut price leases for start-up companies.

19th November, 2000: TAXPAYER KEEPS ON PAYING: The head of the National Audit Office has suggested that taxpayers' money was wrongly committed to the Dome without MPs' knowledge. The NMEC has been assured that the government will meet the cost of any court cases if the "attraction" becomes insolvent. Public Accounts Committee chairman, David Davis said the promise should have been put before MPs.

19th November, 2000: LEGACY HAS GOVERNMENT OVER A BARREL! LEGACY plc, the only serious bidder left to buy the Dome, has the government well and truly over a barrel. It has issued a deadline for Legacy to be chosen as the preferred bidder, or it too will withdraw its offer.

Legacy said: "We want to deliver our project somewhere. We think the Dome is a wonderful, wonderful opportunity. But if we're not able to do it there we'd like to do it somewhere else... It was not an aggressive ultimatum, but it was an ultimatum all the same." Legacy has been given government assurances that there have been no negotiations with rival bidders since Dome Europe pulled out in September.

If Legacy withdraws, Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, has offered to buy it himself with commercial backing. There is a rival group who want to turn the Dome into a concert venue. Legacy wants to turn the Dome into a hi-tech business park and plans to create 14,000 jobs in three years.

14th November, 2000: DOME IS DEPRESSING: The Dome has won something at last, but not quite what it expected. In a survey of 1,000 people by NetDoctor.co.uk the Dome came out on top as the most depressing feature of 2000. One in five people said the Dome had depressed them more than anything else throughout the year, beating floods, rail chaos and even the breakdown of Middle East peace. Oh, dear.

14th November, 2000: NINTH MAN IS CHARGED WITH ATTEMPTED ROBBERY: Wayne Taylor, a 35 year old horse dealer from Tonbridge, Kent became the ninth man to be charged in connection with the attempted diamond robbery, and has been remanded in custody. Wayne Taylor is accused of attempting to steal the De Beers Millennium Jewels and is also accused of putting staff in fear of being subjected to force. He appeared alongside Kevin Meredith, a 34 year old charter skipper, from Brighton, East Sussex, at Belmarsh Magistrates Court in south east London. Mr Meredith, who is accused of attempted robbery, made an application for bail but was remanded in custody and both men agreed not to reappear in court until 7 December.

Read the full story of the diamond heist here

13th November, 2000: INQUIRY LAUNCHED OVER LEAKED CABINET DOCUMENTS: Surprise, surprise, an inquiry has been launched into how an almost word-for-word record of the Cabinet meeting, in which the decision was made by Tony Blair to press ahead with the Dome despite collegues' objections was leaked to the press. The fact that Tony Blair was absent for most of the meeting has apparantely been well known for years. Whitehall "experts" are astonished that such a sensitive document as this has been leaked.

The minutes show that ministers accurately predicted many of the problems. Ann Taylor, then Leader of the Commons, said "Northern families won't come because it is too expensive" (they're obviously too busy spending their money on fish and chips and wippets and ferrets - little does she know !! and these are the people who know the difference between mushy peas and advocado !!). Clare Short, International Development Secretary (soon to be 'reshuffled' out of place by George Galloway) said "This will be a political disaster. The whole of the West Midlands is very angry about the fiddled way it was decided not to go for the NEC and is deeply hostile. Street parties would be better". Ron Davies (mmmm...), then Welsh Secretary said "Even if we have no national monument for the Millennium, we could do an awful lot of good with this kind of money". Alistair Darling, then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said "There's a danger we will have to bail it out". Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, said "We can always blame the Tories if we stop now. If we go ahead, we will have to take the blame if the whole lot goes wrong".

Quite.

12th November, 2000: BLAIR IS TO BLAME: Tony Blair is reported to have pressed ahead with building the Millennium Dome - despite the misgivings of cabinet ministers. Leaked documents, reported upon in the Mail on Sunday, show that a number of senior ministers had advised against it. But Tony is said to have told them the scheme had to go ahead, and none of the ministers wanted to defy him. (That's guts for you !).

The Mail on Sunday has reproduced what it says is the first full record of a Cabinet meeting. At the meeting, held in June 1997, shortly after Labour came to power, Tony Blair is quoted as saying: "It is an important decision and we should proceed in principle." The only alternative would be to write off "huge sums" of public money which had already been committed to the scheme, he is said to have added. According to the paper, Tony Blair then left the meeting to attend a memorial service, leaving his deputy, John Prescott, in the chair. A dozen cabinet ministers then objected to the project, but eventually decided to go ahead with it, even after admitting they could not blame the previous Conservative Government if it went wrong.

Gordon Brown is quoted as voicing a "series of worries" about the Dome, and the Education Secretary, David Blunkett, saying he was "deeply against" it. Chief Whip Ann Taylor suggested the money for the project could be spent on schools and hospitals instead, and the International Development secretary, Clare Short, warned of a "political disaster" (but not a flop!!). The report says the cabinet agreed that despite their misgivings, if Mr Blair backed the Dome, they should rubberstamp it. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is quoted as saying "If Tony has made a decision, we'll all have to support it", before going on to speak of his own "grave" anxieties about the project.

Downing Street has refused to confirm whether the account of the meeting is accurate, or reveal if attempts would be made to find the source of the leak.

12th November, 2000: IT'S MAKE YOUR MIND UP TIME - DOME'S "CRISIS WEEK"

The Government has been told by Legacy that it has five days to agree to their proposals for the Millennium Dome. Robert Bourne, the millionaire Labour donor, wants to build a 'knowledge park' on the site and has said that, if a deal is not finalised by Friday, he will pull out. Sources said that there were 'financial issues' for Bourne to tackle before the Government would give the go-ahead for his plans for a British Silicon Valley. Officials still hope the £102 million Bourne deal will be given the green light this week, but said they needed a fall-back position. One admitted this was the Dome's 'crisis week'.

So in desperation, the Government is drawing up plans for a "dark Dome scenario" in which the Dome stands empty for a year in an attempt to save Ministers' from the embarrassment of having to demolish it. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, has ordered English Partnerships to produce an emergency report about what to do with the Dome if Bourne's Legacy plan is dumped.

The leading option is to mothball it, allowing other bidders still interested in reopening the Dome to come forward. The site would be cleared, secured and left standing. Officials at the Millennium Commission said that there were other organisations they could talk to about buying the Dome, if Bourne abandons his bid. The second option would be to demolish the site and sell it as a business park, a route supported by some in the Government.

One senior source said that an argument between the two camps would be the 'mother of all battles'. Critics of knocking down the Dome say that it would cost up to £40 million and could leave the embarrassing spectacle of a half-completed demolition at the time of the general election, expected in May. The dark Dome option would be cheaper. Embarrasingly for him, Tony Blair has put his personal reputation on the line over the Dome, saying that it would be a monument to New Labour. John Prescott is concerned that getting rid of the structure would be a public relations disaster.

11th November, 2000: DOMERAIDERS TAKE 2 - NOW IN GLORIOUS TECHNICOLOUR

Well, it had to happen. The Guardian reports that the BBC is planning a fictional account of the Millennium Dome diamond snatch. The BBC's factual drama department has started work on a film of the foiled attempt to steal the Millennium Star. The crime itself drew comparisons with a sequence from the latest James Bond film, The World Is Not Enough. Researchers have already contacted journalists, police and others involved in the story. While the project is in its earliest stages of development - any programme could not be shown until after a trial, and eight men have just been charged - the BBC's director general, Greg Dyke, is said to be keen. A spokeswoman said: "Discussions are at a very early stage - it is just a gleam in the eye at the moment."

Nevertheless, the tale is ripe for dramatisation, and other broadcasters are also thought to be chasing it. Central to the film would be the role of the Flying Squad, which foiled the operation. The team was led by detective superintendent Jon Shatford, and some observers say some dramatic licence might have to be taken with his part. "He's more Inspector Morse than Denis Waterman," one said. However, John Thaw, who starred in the Sweeney as well as the later detective series, is on an exclusive contract with ITV. The obvious alternative would be Pete Postlethwaite, a current BBC favourite. The film could also provide work for Nick Berry, the former Heartbeat actor who is on a £3m exclusive deal with the BBC, but whose latest vehicle, Harbour Lights, was a disaster. Young and suave, he would be an ideal Mr Big. Ricky Tomlinson would be the crime gang's obligatory Scouser, perhaps commandeering the mechanical digger that smashed through the dome's exterior. PY Gerbeau, the Frenchman who runs the dome, must also have a prominent part - Gérard Depardieu could be in line. Questions remain over a role for Pierce Brosnan, who slid down the dome's roof in the dramatic opening sequence for the latest Bond movie. But while the BBC drama budget has received a huge boost under Mr Dyke, it is unlikely to extend to the fees of Hollywood stars.

Can't wait!

7th November, 2000: NAO REPORT PUBLISHED: Back down to earth with a bump!

No sooner has the smoke cleared from yesterday's smoke bombs than the National Audit Office publishes its damning report into the management of the Dome. Read it in full here or read the highlights below.

The main points of the National Audit Office report into the Millennium Dome.

  • Millennium Dome visitor number targets were "ambitious and inherently risky".
  • There was a failure to put in sufficiently robust financial management.
  • The New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) proved unable "to track and quantify fully the contractual commitments it has entered into".
  • The NMEC "experienced difficulty in establishing the full extent of its liabilities".
  • Visitor numbers target "involved significant risk".
  • The NMEC did not have sufficient experience in running a large visitor attraction.
  • The Dome's marketing strategy had too little money devoted to it and was based on word of mouth reports; free media exposure and was "very high risk".
  • Opening the Dome on time was a major achievement.
  • The company estimates that each time the Dome received "bad press", sales inquiries dropped by 30% to 50% in the following week.
  • NMEC found it had not "sufficiently explained" the Dome's content to the public.
  • The complex organisational structure between ministers, the Millennium Commission and NMEC created a situation where "all the parties are not always in agreement as to where in practice the burden of influence and authority has lain".
  • The first signs of budgetary pressure had emerged in November 1998 - 14 months before the Dome opened.
  • NMEC may have been insolvent since February 2000.

    Chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, David Davis, said the report was "a serious indictment of those involved with this ill-fated project". Lord Falconer, minister with responsibility for the Dome, admitted mistakes were made but said there had also been successes. "The government recognises that mistakes have been made during the Millennium Experience project and these have been highlighted in the NAO's report. However, we should not lose sight of what has been achieved. The Dome is the number one pay-to-visit attraction in the UK, with over 5.4 million visits so far - with visitor satisfaction ratings among the industry's highest. As the NAO report says opening the Dome on time was a major achievement."

    Bob Ayling wrote a personal letter of apology for the Dome's failings in London's Evening Standard newspaper on Thursday. His letter said: "Those of us responsible for the Dome owe everyone else an apology for not having achieved the aspiration we all had of attracting 12 million visitors. "While there is much about the Dome of which I am and will remain proud, an apology is due and I personally offer one unreservedly."

    Can we expect anyone else to accept even an ounce of responsibility never mind offer such an apology?

    7th November, 2000: DIAMONDS ARE A DOME'S BEST FRIEND: Diamonds worth £350 million - armed police lying in wait disguised as cleaners - then all of a sudden a JCB digger crashes through the perimeter fence and into the Dome - the raiders let off smoke bombs and, armed with nail guns and sledgehammers, crash into the Money Zone where the 203-carat Millennium Star diamond and 11 rare blue diamonds, together known as the Millennium Jewels and on loan from De Beers, are housed in a secure vault.

    De Beers had already replaced the real jewels with fakes because police warned the NMEC five weeks ago that there may be a possible attack. It would have been the largest robbery in the world had it succeeded (surely worth a film, then ?). Read more about the diamond heist here

    26th October, 2000: THE GERMANS HAVE A DOME TOO !! It seems that we are not the only ones with a disasterous dome. Germany's World Expo exhibition in Hannover is preparing to close with debts that could exceed £1 billion. Die Welt newspaper said "Expo finishes a disaster ... For a long time it has been clear that the Expo will make history as the biggest German planning fiasco ever."

    Read more about Germany's embarrasment at More Domes

    The DOME really is popular !! Well, go on then - here's a bit of good news.

    The Dome recently won the "Best New Leisure Attraction" Award in the Group Leisure Industry Awards 2000. Readers of Group Leisure travel industry magazine voted the Dome the best new attraction in the year 2000. Group Leisure Magazine reaches more than 12,000 group organisers, guides, tour managers and coach operators.

    The English Tourism Council’s 1999 attractions league table shows that the Dome has already exceeded the yearly attendance of the Natural History Museum (1,739,591), Legoland Windsor (1,620,000) and the Science Museum (1,480,000). By the beginning of June, attendance at the Dome is expected to have beaten the 1999 attendance records for all UK paying attractions, including Alton Towers (2,650,000), Madame Tussaud’s (2,640,000) and the Tower of London (2,422,181). Find out more about the Dome's attendence figures here.

    27th October, 2000: IT'S PARTY TIME AT THE MILLENNIUM DOME !! Another big bash is planned at the Millennium Dome for New Year's Eve. Only this time, professional party-givers, Ministry of Sound (MoS) will be organising it.

    MoS was founded by one-time merchant banker James Palumbo, the son of the former Arts Council boss, Lord Palumbo and since opening in a bus depot in 1991, MoS has become a global brand with a turnover estimated up to £80 million. However, just a fraction of its revenue comes from the club itself. MoS sells £20 million worth of albums featuring mixes by its home DJs, such as Tall Paul and the Artful Dodger. The MoS website claims 3.5 million page impressions each month. The company also sells 95,000 copies of its Ministry magazine. MoS branded clothes can be found on almost any High Street. Digital radio and TV production projects are also in the company's portfolio. Mark Robol, creative director said "We genuinely understand what young people want." Other companies seem to agree. Everyone from Playstation makers Sony to the more controversial British American Tobacco have cut sponsorship deals with the club. MoS even offered to fund the Dome's spirit zone but religious groups were upset by Mr Rodol's assertion that: "Clubs are the churches of the next millennium."

    P-Y said: "What better way to finish a year which has seen more than 5 million people celebrate the millennium by visiting the Dome. It promises to be a fun packed day at the Dome topped off by a world class party that celebrates the youth of Britain as we enter 2001. This is an ideal final act for the Dome celebrating the future and youth of this country."

    Despite the presence of up to 16,000 youngsters, the Dome's finances will be no better off. All of the gate receipts will be going to MoS. James Palumbo is a friend of Northern Ireland secretary Peter Mandelson. At the time of the last General Election, whilst organising Labour's campaign, Mandelson rode around in a chauffeur-driven car provided by James Palumbo. James Palumbo was dubbed "The Minister of Sounds" to Mandelson's "Minister of Soundbites". The club's endorsement was seen as ringing proof of New Labour's "Cool Britannia" credentials, and although "Cool Britannia" has lost its sheen, James Palumbo remains close to the government and his thoughts on a catchy campaign theme tune for the next election are eagerly sought.

    So, just who is doing the favour for whom?

    23rd October, 2000: 5 MILLION VISITORS !! P-Y said "We are delighted to welcome our five millionth visitor to the Dome. The latest Mori survey shows that our visitors love us and we are already the UK’s most popular paying tourist attraction. I look forward to welcoming the sixth millionth visitor!". No comment!

    13th October, 2000: ARRESTS OVER DOME CONTRACT Scotland Yard's Fraud Squad have arrested four people on allegations of fraud over the award of a lighting contract. Police believe the contract may have been unfairly awarded by NMEC. The lighting company was not named but police claim there was an 'inappropriate relationship' between it and the NMEC.

    A man in his 30s and a woman in her 20s, arrested on Thursday afternoon (12 Oct) in Wavertree, Liverpool, were taken to London for further questioning. They were later bound over to appear at a central London police station in February next year. A further two people were arrested - a woman in her 60s, in West Yorkshire, and a man in his 30s at a "business address" in South East London. This morning, a spokeswoman for NMEC was unable to confirm whether the business address referred to by the police was the Dome. "It is a matter for the police and the courts, and that's all we can say at the moment," she said.

    The contract was awarded in 1998 when Peter Mandelson was the minister in charge of the Dome and the now sacked Jenny Page was its chief executive. David James declined to comment on the arrests, however he confirmed: "We are carrying out our own internal review to establish the correctness of all 1,800 contracts which were awarded."

    9th October, 2000: DOME SPONSORS INDICTED

    India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has charged Srichand, Gopichand and Prakashchand Hindaju after ongoing investigations into the deal in which Bofors won a contract to supply the Indian Army with 400 howitzers guns. The CBI allege that Indian politicians and bureaucrats were bribed by Bofors and that the Hindaju brothers also received commissions of £8m (at current worth) to "facilitate" the deal. However the Hindajus claim that the payments from Bofors were unrelated to the arms deal. The Indian court will begin hearing arguments on 20th November to consider whether there is enough evidence to charge them. Should they decide to do so, India would then begin extradition proceedings and if convicted they face up to seven years in prison.

    Taken at last November's Diwali celebrations in London, the Hindaju brothers mix with the beautiful people!

    8th October, 2000: DOME NOT PEOPLE'S CHOICE Sainsbury's supermarket on the Greenwich peninsula has come top of a public poll for the People's Choice section of the Building of the Year awards. It will now automatically go into the short-list for the Royal Institute of British Architects' £20,000 Stirling Prize.

    Talking of Greenwich, what about the hero of these pages ? .... it didn't even make the Top 10 !!!

    2nd October, 2000: September has been the leanest month for visitors since January. 389,729 people visited the Dome, an average of just 15,442 a day. The total number of visitors now stands at 3,847,911, and we are told that this is not far off the overall visitor target. The Dome is now trying to cut its losses - the majority of souvenirs are being sold off at bargain prices.

    A spokesman for NMEC said: "Mr James' target was conservative and the Dome's chief executive Pierre-Yves Gerbeau has a bigger figure than that in mind." Sad, isn't it ?

    More Dome News


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