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Wednesday, 29 May, 2002, 19:15 GMT 20:15 UK
Countdown of controversy
Dome at night
BBC News Online looks back over the Millennium Dome's troubled history.

1994 Conservative Prime Minister John Major sets up the Millennium Commission and hands responsibility for the Dome to his deputy, Michael Heseltine.

January 1996 The site opposite Greenwich is selected over bids from Birmingham, Derby and Stratford in east London.

May A feasibility study into the business sector's contribution to the Dome shows a huge financial shortfall: only 144m has been raised from industry, leaving the project still short of 150m.

December Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine announces the government will underwrite all Millennium Exhibition costs, despite a promise the previous year that it would be paid for entirely with private money.

January 1997 Labour announces that if it wins the imminent general election, it will back the project. Once installed in Number 10, Prime Minister Tony Blair - against cabinet resistance - gives it the go-ahead.

20 June Peter Mandelson is made sole shareholder of the New Millennium Experience Company.

July A German company wins the commission to build the Dome after the only British company to bid pulls out due to the size of the project. But the contract eventually goes to the American, but Japanese-owned, company Birdair.

20 July Labour minister Clare Short refers to the dome as "a silly, temporary building".

26 July Controversy over ex-civil servant Jennie Page's 500,000 salary as head of New Millennium Experience Company. The figure is eventually amended to 150,000, with built-in performance bonuses.

23 December 1998 Mr Mandelson resigns from the government, after The Guardian reveals he kept a 373,000 loan from the Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson secret.

4 January 1999 Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Mr Blair's former flatmate, replaces Mr Mandelson as minister for the Dome.

May The first Tube trains to serve the Millennium Dome come on stream, 14 months late and 1.2bn over the budget.

22 June The Dome's external structure is, finally, completed.

22 September Tickets go on sale.

8 November The New Millennium Experience Company receives a 50m public subsidy loan to cover cash flow difficulties. The pay-out from the Millennium Commission will become the first of several large hand-outs to keep the attraction going.

UK retailers report low or non-existent ticket sales for the event, despite a 4m advertising campaign.

14 December The prime minister gives his strongest backing yet to the Dome, claiming it will be "a triumph of confidence over cynicism, boldness over blandness, excellence over mediocrity".

31 December 1999 - 1 January 2000The Dome's big day is a flop. Problems begin at Stratford station where 3,000 guests are forced to queue for hours as their tickets fail to arrive through the post due to an administrative error.

1 January The first members of the paying public see the Dome, feedback is generally positive.

5 January MPs decide to launch an inquiry into the problems which blight the Millennium Dome, including complaints about two-hour queues to see the most popular attractions.

February Figures reveal that only 344,620 people visited the Dome in January - 3% of the original yearly target.

6 February NMEC chief executive Jennie Page is forced to fall on her sword, replaced by Pierre-Yves Gerbeau.

10 March NMEC borrows another 9m of lottery money. The money has come from the Millennium Commission, which has already loaned the attraction 32m to stave off a cash-flow crisis caused by low attendance and booking numbers.

12 May The management of the Millennium Dome asks for a further cash injection - on top of the 110m given in two previous loans - to cover the cost of disappointing visitor numbers.

The Dome's management now admits it will not meet the 10 million visitor target, leading to a demand for more subsidies to stay afloat.

Following unfavourable comparisons with the London Eye Millennium Wheel, the Dome is now embarrassed by the recently-opened Tate Modern, which has attracted 120,000 visitors in its first three days of opening - in stark contrast to figures at the Dome, which is struggling to admit 20,000 visitors a day.

22 May The Millennium Commission agrees to grant the ailing attraction one 'final' emergency hand-out of 29m worth of Lottery money.

23 May NMEC chairman Bob Ayling forced to quit his post.

15 June Jennie Page levels part of the blame for the Dome's poor performance and low visitor numbers at government ministers.

27 July Lord Falconer announces the government is to sell the Millennium Dome to Japanese finance house Nomura.

1 August The Dome receives its fiercest criticism yet as a report into the running of the attraction is published by the Culture Media Sport Select Committee.

4 August Newspapers accuse Mr Gerbeau of breaking his word on not approaching the Millennium Commission for more hand-outs, after it emerges that Dome chiefs are to receive 43m in advance from the sale of the attraction.

7 August Newspapers claim the decision to proceed with the Dome was backed by only five members of Mr Blair's 22-strong cabinet.

26 August Ticket prices for the Dome are reduced by up to 50% in a final attempt to reverse the continuing slump in visitor numbers.

7 September The Dome receives an extra 47m from the Millennium Commission to stave off an early closure.

12 September Nomura announce they are pulling out of the deal to buy the troubled attraction and it's surrounding land for 105m.

24 September Tony Blair finally stops defending the Dome and admits that it had failed to meet public expectations.

25 September The London Evening Standard reports that Dome chiefs were given two warnings that its predicted visitor figure of 12 million was unachievable long before it opened.

25 September Michael Heseltine, the politician who commissioned the Dome admits that it should not have been built.

7 November Police foil an audacious attempt to steal 350m worth of diamonds on display in the Dome.

9 November The National Audit Office publishes a report into the Dome that says visitor number targets were "ambitious and inherently risky", while there was a failure to put in sufficiently robust financial management. 20 November Legacy Plc is appointed preferred bidder with a plan to turn the Dome into London's very own silicon valley with hi-tech offices, workshops, retail outlets and leisure facilities.

31 December 2000 The Dome's year-long exhibition closes - with a surge of visitors in its last days.

15 February 2001 Legacy, whose maximum bid of 100m failed to meet government expectations, is stripped of preferred bidder status.

18 December 2001 Meridian Delta Ltd is appointed "exclusive partners" with government agency English Partnerships to regenerate the Greenwich peninsula.

The agreement includes plans to turn the Dome into a 20,000 seat sports and entertainment complex.

17 April 2002 It emerges that taxpayers paid more than 28m to maintain the Dome in the year after it closed.

29 May 2002 The deal with the Meridian consortium and American entertainment giant AEG is confirmed.

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