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The BBC's Nick Higham
"Its days as a visitor attraction are numbered"
 real 56k

Monday, 20 November, 2000, 17:37 GMT
Legacy given Dome go-ahead
The interior of the Dome will be transformed
The interior of the Dome will be transformed
The Dome is likely to be sold to a company which plans to turn it into a high-tech business park which could create thousands of jobs.

The last remaining bidder, Legacy, has been granted preferred status by the government and is likely to be awarded the deal.

It follows weeks of uncertainty after another bid, backed by the Japanese bank Nomura, was withdrawn over worries about the financial status of the Dome.

Legacy is likely to be paying around 125m to the government for the Dome, with at least 50m in advance.

We have worked very hard over recent months to satisfy the very demanding requirements

Robert Bourne, Legacy
The deal was held up while the government investigated Legacy's plans to transform the Dome into a high-tech business park.

It also wanted to ensure that the company had the financial and managerial capability to carry through the deal.

There may be still some haggling over the price, although the government's financial advisors have said that it could gain more money by selling the site and demolishing the Dome.

Last week Legacy threatened to withdraw from the bidding after growing increasingly frustrated by the long delays, as a cabinet committee headed by deputy Prime Minister John Prescott discussed the bid.

Dome disaster

The Dome has cost the National Lottery Fund over 600m and it has never attracted the level of visitors that the government hoped would allow it to break even.

After eleven months, it is clear that it will receive less than half the 12m visitors that were originally projected.

Earlier in the month the National Audit Office severely criticised the management of the Dome for its unrealistic projections and said it had come near to insolvency.

In September, the Dome's management was reshuffled and troubleshooter David James took over.

Legacy is a company founded by a Labour party donor and property developer Robert Bourne, and backed by is Treasury Holdings, one of Ireland's biggest private property groups.

Lord Falconer
Lord Falconer: Much work needs to be done
It says it will create 14,000 jobs in three years by building a "silicon valley" e-business park to be known as Knowledge City in London.

Mr Bourne said he was delighted with the government's decision.

He added: "We have worked very hard over recent months to satisfy the very demanding requirements put before us by English Partnerships...and I am pleased that we can now move on to the next stage."

Agreed timetable

News of the government's decision came in a parliamentary written answer from Hilary Armstrong, the local government minister.

She said: "Legacy has been awarded preferred bidder status because they have confirmed that they will resolve all outstanding contractual issues within an agreed timetable.

"Negotiations will continue and if all goes well we expect to exchange contracts during February.

"Progress will be reviewed regularly."

Lord Falconer, the government minister with responsibility for the Dome, described Legacy's plans as exciting.

"Though much work has to be done before negotiations can be completed, Legacy's plans offer a high-quality, high-tech and exciting future for the Dome, for Londoners and especially the people of Greenwich."

Shadow culture secretary Pater Ainsworth said the deal smacked of "dither, delay, prevarication and cronyism".

He added: "This deal has more to do with political expediency and Prime Ministerial face saving than it has to do with value for money."

"If the Government had full confidence in the Legacy bid they could have awarded preferred bidder status last summer."

Liberal Democrats MP Norman Baker said: "We should be grateful that a solution has been found for the Dome, but disappointed that it has left a legacy of massive debt and huge cost to the British taxpayer."

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See also:

16 Nov 00 | Business
Legacy plans high-tech Dome
16 Nov 00 | UK Politics
Dome deal in doubt
09 Nov 00 | UK
'Ill-fated' Dome condemned
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