6th September 2000: It all came out. The Dome's bosses have been covering up their cash crisis for months. As far back as May, paymasters, the Millennium Commission, warned the NMEC that they should be estimating for between 4 and 4.5 million visitors. But the NMEC ignored all these projections, insisting that the Dome would get at least 7 million visitors. Not wanting to take any responsibility for anything, Charlie Falconer denied that he knew about this and said, "I'm very surprised to hear that". He did sheepishly admit, however, that expecting 12 million visitors "turned out to be wrong and was a mistake".
5th September 2000: MORE MONEY THROWN AT THE DOME Oh, dear - yet more money down the drain. Another £47 million this time. After the award of the David James said that had the Dome not been given any money "it would, very simply have been insolvent that night" This is the fifth injection of cash this year - how much next time ? Oh, is this the last time ? Well, we've all heard that before. This time, though the associated uproar by politicians and press may mean that this is just one grant too many. Who is going to take responsiblity for this fiasco ?
7th August 2000: DOME WAS HOURS FROM INSOLVENCY The Dome was hours from insolvency when it was given a grant of £29m on 22nd May. The grant was publicly announced on 23rd May and coincided with the "resignation" of Bob Ayling. PY was not happy, the Dome had requested £38.6m.
6th August, 2000: MINISTERS 'MISLED' PUBLIC OVER SCALE OF DOME LOSSES A massive headline screamed out from the Sunday Telegraph yesterday telling a story how Ministers misled the public when claiming that it would cost £200m to close the Dome. PY's financial appraisal made clear that that the £200m figure, which our Government used as justification to keep the Dome open, only applied if it had been closed in May. They did not reveal a cheaper option, that it would cost "only" £50m to close it in September. Since May, of course, the Dome has been given an extra £72m of emergency funding from the Millennium Commission. Apparently the NMEC currently owes over £1m to its suppliers - in some cases they have been waiting over four months for payment. Last week the Dome was given another additional £43m.
6th August, 2000: NAO WIDENS ENQUIRY INTO DOME FINANCES Also announced in the Sunday Telegraph this weekend was the story that the National Audit Office is to widen its enquiry into Dome finances to cover allegations that Government Ministers unfairly used the proceeds of the recent sale of the Dome to Nomura to bail it out. It was announced that the Dome would receive £53m of the proceeds of the sale, at the expense of another public body, English Partnerships, who will now receive a smaller share than originally promised. [As a note aside, the Chairman of English Partnerships also sits on the Board of the NMEC - so he's not going to be complaining because he is a party to this mismanagement after all]. English Partnerships claims, unofficially of course, that more money would have been raised by tearing down the dome and selling the land off for development. The National Audit Office's report is due in the Autumn and will be reported in detail on this site.
4th August, 2000: SUSPECT PACKAGE FOUND IN MONEY ZONE The Millennium Dome was closed today for a short time after a bomb threat. A suspect package was found near the Money zone. Authorities believe it may contain payment for the first full-price entrance ticket sold since the attraction opened at the beginning of January and have said it may contain as much as £20.
4th August, 2000: TRAFFIC JAMS BLIGHT DOME ! The Millennium Dome has abandoned its environmentally friendly anti-car policy and opened up a 1,000-vehicle car park - in a major U-turn, the Dome's management confirmed last night that visitors with tickets for the attraction could now park on site by North Greenwich station for £10 a day. The move will embarrass government ministers and the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC), who pledged that no vehicles would be allowed on to the Greenwich peninsula. It also comes on the day that the Millennium Commission agreed to advance the Dome another £43 million to keep it open despite poor visitor numbers.
In December, just before the Dome opened, Glenda Jackson, then Transport Minister, said that no cars would be allowed near the Dome. "This is not a project which is dependent on access by the private car," she said. "Access to the Dome by car is not possible."
Peter Ainsworth, Shadow Culture Secretary, said: "This is pure desperation and makes all their pious words about traffic control meaningless. The Dome appears to be desperate to do anything that makes money." In another development, it emerged yesterday that the Millennium Commission has agreed to advance NMEC £43 million from the proceeds that it will receive from the sale of the Dome to Nomura at the end of the year. The advance comes on top of the £89 million of extra National Lottery money already given to the Dome and should ensure that it stays open until the end of the year.
1st August , 2000: 8th REPORT OF THE SELECT COMMITTEE ON CULTURE, MEDIA AND SPORT PUBLISHED read it in full here or read the highlights, in the Committee's own words, below:
DOME MANAGEMENT AND PROJECT DELIVERY
Conception and Structure: "From the start in 1996, the separation between politicians and what became NMEC was never clearly established by either Government, which affected perceptions of the Millennium Dome as a visitor attraction. It has also meant that we have found it exceptionally difficult to disentangle the responsibilities of the various parties involved in the Millennium Experience. This may perhaps have been one of the intentions of those involved, but it must also be acknowledged that political involvement was integral to the project from its very inception".
Visitor Attraction Expertise: "With the benefit of hindsight it is evident to some of those involved and to this Committee that the project lacked enough involvement by those with sufficient experience of commercial visitor attractions. The evidence that we received in November 1997 from Mr Keith Bales was far-sighted and demonstrated that the weakness was foreseen and therefore foreseeable. In spite of constant reassurances both from Ministers and the Board themselves that they were safely in control of the project and suitably qualified to run the project successfully, the Board of NMEC failed to recognize that different skills were required for the construction and operational phases of the project and to plan ahead to ensure a smooth transition between these phases. For too long, the Dome was perceived as a public monument more than a visitor attraction, but it was the latter element that would ultimately determine its success or failure".
Delivery of the Dome and the Associated Infrastructure: "The Millennium Dome was from its inception a high-risk project. However, it is now apparent that the urgency of ensuring the completion of the building of the Dome on time led to an as yet unquantifiable overspend and subsequent severe financial problems. We commend everyone concerned in ensuring that the Dome won its race against time and in particular the former Chief Executive of NMEC, Ms Jennie Page, who made the single greatest contribution to that achievement".
Transport: The fact that the Jubilee Line Extension opened only just in time is a demonstration of the validity of our concerns about transport. Furthermore, the obduracy of London Transport until very late in the day in rejecting our proposals for a scheduled bus route was unjustified. We are concerned that even now visitor numbers may be adversely affected by London Transport's failure to direct visitors adequately to the Dome from its stations".
Expenditure and The Dome Budget: During all of our previous inquiries on the subject, NMEC repeated that mantra that the project was 'on time and on budget'. The first part of that claim has proved justified; the second is more open to question. The Comptroller and Auditor General has already agreed that the National Audit Office will undertake a full audit of the circumstances surrounding that most recent grants made to NMEC. We recommend that he should broaden that enquiry to look at the Dome's accounts to date, in their entirety, in preparation for a full examination of those accounts by the Committee of Public Accounts".
Regeneration: A balanced assessment of the Dome as a public project should give due weight to the growing signs of its success as a regeneration project, particularly as that regeneration potential of the project was from the outset of crucial importance in the selection of the site and organisation of the project.
VISITOR EXPERIENCE, VISITOR NUMBERS AND FINANCES
The Opening Ceremony: The Dome was intended to be the centre-piece of the Millennium celebrations and as such took centre stage on New Year's Eve. Before considering that event, we should note the success of the celebrations across the country on that night. More than 4 million people enjoyed the numerous public New Year's Eve events throughout the United Kingdom; the largest of which was the Big Time celebrations in London, which spread along both banks of the river Thames and into the Mall and Regent's Park. The Millennium Commission supported New Year's Eve and 'First Weekend' celebrations in 22 cities and towns throughout the United Kingdom. The celebrations in London and elsewhere were safe and passed without serious incident. The Metropolitan Police Service attributed the conduct of the large, good-natured crowds to careful organization, co-ordination and publicity. More than 10,000 people attended the Dome's official opening on 31st December 1999, and more than 2 billion watched it on television. The event, anticipated as being of strategic significance to the success of the Dome's year of operation, was affected by difficulties in issuing tickets in advance. The security forms that guests had to complete were complicated, and consequently many were returned to the Company late. Ms Page said that she learnt of the problems only on 21st December, but the Company "worked five nights without stopping" in an endeavour to rectify the problems. We regret these endeavours were not more successful. We find it surprising that foreseeable security problems which might arise on the evening had not long since been given greater consideration. On the night itself, a significant number of guests were delayed by congestion at Stratford station. Ms Page told us that the problems stemmed in part from "immense concerns about security in relation to 31 December". Mr Quarmby acknowledged that the problems "certainly took the edge off the experience of the opening night for 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 of our guests". The Company apologised to those who were inconvenienced and offered them free return tickets to the Dome. Prominent members of the media were amongst those delayed at Stratford, and opinions vary on whether their discomfort that night contributed to subsequent negative press coverage of the Dome. In the longer term, the events of that one night can be considered part and parcel of wider perceptions of the Dome's content.
Delivery and quality of the Dome's content: We have observed the pleasure that the Dome's contents give children. However, it must be recognised that some of the original ambitions for the Dome's contents have not been realised. Taken as a whole, the Dome's content is interesting and rewarding, but rarely inspiring. The content lacks a sense of cohesion; it is more of a patchwork. There is no single element to make the visitor gasp in astonishment to provide the "wow" factor that was originally sought.
The National Programme: We were impressed by that performance and the energy and enthusiasm that the Our Town Story had fired in all those involved. This Committee continues that support for the Our Town Story initiative first stated in Not Only the Dome and has been impressed by the number of children who have had the opportunity to perform in the Dome.
Visitor forecasting: We still do not know who decided the various visitor forecast figures, who changed them, or why. However, ultimate responsibility must lie with the Board of NMEC and successive shareholders. The fluctuations in the visitor forecasts from more than 15 million to 10 million, up to 12 million and back down to 10 and finally 6 million seems to have been made without proper regard to the immense financial implications those changes entailed. It appears that NMEC, the Millennium Commission and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport accepted the over-optimistic opinion polls without considering the underlying assumptions or exploring a new methodology on which to base those crucial figures.
Millennium Commission grants: NMEC is confident that it will not have to return to the Millennium Commission for more funds. However, there are no guarantees, and therefore if the current business plan does not balance and insolvency becomes a prospect then the tax payer may face a bill larger than the cost of the Millennium Commission making further grants from the National Lottery. There is still a lack of clarity as to how much of the Lottery money so far received by NMEC is loan and how much grant. Originally the total sum was to be £538 million, but that has now been revised to £525 million. Just how much will be repaid?
Marketing and media: The Company did not place a sufficient emphasis on marketing before the Dome opened and was unduly reliant on free coverage in the press. That approach proved to be disastrous when the press coverage became largely hostile.
THE FUTURE OF THE DOME
Disposal and division of proceeds: According to the 1997 business plan, NMEC expected to receive £15 million from the sale of the Dome but at the time, it was intended that the Dome would be dismantled after the year of operation. The Company envisaged that the proceeds from the disposal of the Dome and excess revenue from the year of operation would provide the funds to return £50 million to the Millennium Commission. In the 1999 Annual Report, the figure is £30 million. Mr Smith told us that "the figure in the business plan is a provisional sum which is in there as a reasonable stab at what might be forthcoming from such a division of the proceeds between English Partnerships and NMEC." This is an unusual way of describing a business plan which has had to be rewritten so many times. We regard it as essential that English Partnerships will be beneficiaries of the sale of the Dome to the extent originally envisaged. The Dome's future has been a fundamental issue since our first inquiry. The permanence of that future has been held up as a justification for the entire project. The timing of the announcement of the decision has rendered it impossible for this Committee to give full consideration to the implications of that decision in this Report. We consider it imperative, however, that the following four issues should be clarified:
28th July, 2000 - DOME SOLD TO LOWEST BIDDER
DOME EUROPE will take over the Millennium Dome at the end of the year and will pay just £105 million for everything inside it, along with a parcel of adjacent land. Dome Europe is backed by the Japanese finance group, Nomura. Members of the consortium include Hyper Entertainment, 30% owned by Sony, who will be in charge of producing vibrant attractions. Of the £105 million purchase price, £53 million will be paid up front to the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC) to keep the thing going until the end of the year. This was money originally earmarked for English Partnerships, the government regeneration agency which owns the land, and which could have been put to good social use. Whether it will keep the thing open is anybody's guess, it has been reported that this extra £53 million will only last until September, when the Lottery Commission can expect to receive a request for a loan repayable at the end of the year, when Nomura completes payment.
Nomura proposes to build hotels, offices, residential and retail outlets adjacent - prime property development at a knock-down price. Apparently Nomura has agreed to keep the Dome open with its existing use as a leisure development for at least 15 years, and has pledged to invest £400 million into the Dome over the next three years. Under this programme we can expect new attractions opening every three months. Mike Swinney from Hyper Entertainment is quoted in the Sunday Telegraph as saying "The concept is ....... primarily to take a very European look at what urban entertainment is, whether it is from Italy, Spain or the UK. It is to bring the best of European culture and literature to life." One of these attractions will be the Yellow Submarine ride, saving Sgt Pepper Land from the Blue Meanies. Swinney added "we're currently just looking at one big moving ride called Skyway, modelled on a balloon ride around the top of the Dome above all the attractions".
So, what can we expect for £400 million ? According to The Daily Telegraph, 29th July, visitors will enter the Dome through the Tapestry of Life section, designed to provide a showcase of all the Europe offers. It will include a 2,500-seat amphitheatre to host performances of drama, music and dance. Street performers will usher the visitors into the Hawker's Market where a variety of traditional goods such as wooden toys and printed matter [ .. books ??] will be produced on site, employing the processes in use in Europe since medieval times. This will take the visitors into the heart of the new Dome Play Europe, a one-acre indoor adventure garden of plants, fountains, mazes, grottos and "crawl-throughs" divided into areas where children can play or adults enjoy themselves. Negotiations are still underway to add a further attraction - based on BBC's Walking With Dinosaurs. Each evening will finish will a son et lumiere parade of European themes. Landscaped pathways lead out of Play Europe into Taste Europe, where a variety of European foods will be on sale and visitors will be able to eat on terraces overlooking Play Europe. Visitors will then move clockwise around the Dome [oh, yes you will !] into the section entitled Celebrate Tradition, which will focus on Europe's past, seen through its art, life, history and culture. It will be based on popular European music, films and stories. This will range from Grimm's Cottage, a children's adventure ride designed by Maurice Sendak (author of Where The Wild Things Are), to the Yellow Submarine Adventure, a film and motion-based simulator that takes visitors into the world of the classic Beatles film where they help save Pepperland from the Blue Meanies. The Celebrate Tradition will also include: Magic Lantern, which uses interactive technology to allow visitors to appear as actors in their favourite films; Storytelling, which goes backstage to see how a performing arts troup works and allows visitors to produce their own performances based on a choice of well known traditional European myths and legends; and the Art Dome, which will contain interactive art exhibitions. The final section is Imagine The Future, which focuses on the innovations, gadgets and science of tomorrow. Its attractions range from the Moebius Airtight Garage, an interactive games arcade based on the art and stories of the French novelist Jean Giraud, to Badlands, described as a "virtual destruction" game in which teams of two, a driver and gunner, use simulator pods to compete with other visitors in a "battle for survival" on an asteroid mining colony. Imagine The Future includes Hyperbowl, in which players manipulate a large bowling ball along a variety of fantasy-themed bowling lanes; Quarternia, in which four teams compete to capture their opponents' Orb "the source of all power"; the Museum of Futurism, which has themed areas based on the predictions of Jules Verne, Fritz Lang and Leonardo da Vinci and includes exhibits on the latest innovations in transport and consumer products; and Edge, a constantly updated showcase of the latest fads, gadgets and technology. The final section will preserve the Body Zone, but introducing new attractions within the body chambers, including a series of "hands-on" demonstrations. The Body will be surrounded by a Holistic Healthscope which will be dedicated to alternative medicines and therapies, including aromatherapy, massage and complementary health products.
Dome Europe intends to redevelop the area around the Dome to create Greenwich Beach, and area of shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and residential accommodation, ranging from studio flats to three-bedroom houses. The bars and restaurants will include a wide variety of music and entertainment venues such as a blues bar, a jazz bar, and rock and comedy clubs.
MAY 2000: Two final short-listed bidders announced - Nomura's DOME EUROPE and Robert Bourne's LEGACY plc. The Dome Europe proposal was for a "world-class urban entertainment resort that celebrates the richness of European culture". Legacy plc proposed "a large cluster of knowledge-based businesses [in effect] the national incubator for technology businesses". Mr Quarmby replaced Mr Robert Ayling as Chairman on NMEC's Board
APRIL 2000: English Partnerships has whittled the total of 70 bids down to five: Dome Europe, Sports Dome 2001, Legacy, Greenwich Media World and Meridian City
FEBRUARY 2000: Mr PY Gerbeau replaced Ms Jennie Page as Chief Executive of NMEC
11th January 2000: DOME SPONSORS GUN FOR NMEC
Sponsors have summoned Dome organisers to a series of crisis meetings. Tesco, Manpower, BAE SYSTEMS, Marconi and the Corporation of London are demanding that their zones, half of which have already suffered breakdowns, be urgently repaired. Some sponsors have threatened to take "robust" action against the New Millennium Experience Company if nothing is done quickly. Some eight of the 14 zones are already reported to have technical problems ranging from the Mind Zone's colony of leaf-cutter ants refusing to leave their nest to crashing software in both the in the Learning and Money Zones and the 'death' of the Body Zone's beating heart.
JANUARY 2000: Six bidders for the Dome shortlisted and invited to submit detailed proposals
DECEMBER 1998: Company's share transferred to Lord Falconer, Minister of State, Cabinet Office upon his appointment as Dome Minister taking over from Peter Mandelson
DECEMBER 1997: Competition to sell the Dome announced. The criteria for the assessment of the bids were: financial consideration, commercial and environment sustainability, regeneration, innovation, cultural significance and transport. Ten outline proposals received.
JULY-SEPTEMBER 1997: Board and management team augmented by new members
MAY-JUNE 1997: Incoming Labour Government conducted review of the project and confirmed it; Company's share transferred to Mr Peter Mandelson MP, Minister Without Portfolio
JANUARY-FEBRUARY 1997: Responsibility for the operation of the Exhibition was assumed by a new public-sector operating company (subsequently called NMEC) with Ms Jennie Page as Chief Executive and a Minister as sole shareholder
AUGUST 1996: The Millennium Commission supported the proposal for a Dome as the main site for the Exhibition
FEBRUARY 1996: The Millennium Commission selected the Greenwich site
JANUARY 1996: Imagination Group Limited was selected as the preferred operator, and the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham and Greenwich were short-listed as sites
SPRING 1995: The Commission began selecting an operator and a site for the Exhibition, referring to its vision of a "showpiece celebration, and .... lasting legacy"
JUNE 1994: The Rt Hon. Peter Brooke MP, the first Chairman of the Millennium Commission, referred to the Commission's sympathy with the idea of a Millennium Festival with an exhibition as its centerpiece
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The Dome. One Amazing Day. One Year Only. Thank God.