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Tuesday, 28 December, 1999, 14:09 GMT
Branson 'bid' for Dome

Dome at sunset The Dome is to be sold off after a year

Virgin boss Richard Branson is in last-minute talks to buy the Millennium Dome, the centre-piece of the UK's celebrations for the year 2000.

Into 2000
According to The Times, Mr Branson is in talks with at least two of the 10 consortia that are bidding to buy the Dome at the end of next year, after the current exhibition closes.

Mr Branson is understood to have had talks with SportsDome, a British-led consortium which plans to turn London into the world's greatest sporting city, and the OurWorld consortium, which aims to use the Dome to promote health and environmental issues.

The Virgin entrepreneur recently raised 600m by selling half his stake in Virgin Atlantic, the company's airline.

A spokesman for Mr Branson said:

"Potentially this could be the kind of thing we are interested in, but at this stage we are not participating in the any of the bids."

Deadline looms

The sale of the Dome is being carried out by English Partnerships, with a shortlist due next month.

Ten consortia have already submitted proposals, with three expected to be on the shortlist.

Body Zone New exhibits will be put in place by the new owners
There have been reports that the BBC has held talks with potential bidders with a view to making available its vast programme library for a variety of exhibitions.

The sale of the Dome is likely to raise around 100m, far less than the 750m it cost to build, including 400m in lottery money.

John Walker of English Partnerships said he hoped the future of the Dome would be secure by this time next year. But he pointed out that the process could be difficult.

"Ministers will need real assurances that whoever takes it on will deliver on what they say," he added.

Having a high-profile company like Virgin could boost the credibility of the bidders, which are mainly made up of property companies, construction firms, and banks

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See also:
19 Dec 99 |  UK
Dome gets thumbs-up from visitors
14 Dec 99 |  UK Politics
Dome will be ready - Blair
20 Dec 99 |  Business
Branson sells 49% of Virgin Atlantic
20 Dec 99 |  Business
Branson: Still flying high

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