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The BBC's Nick Robinson
"The government is faced with having an empty Dome on election day"
 real 56k

The BBC's David Sillito
"First in the queue to put in a bid is P Y Gerbeau"
 real 56k

Conservative MP Andrew Lansley
"Lord Falconer should resign"
 real 28k

PY Gerbeau, former Dome chief executive
"We are open to discussion"
 real 28k

Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 16:41 GMT
Dome race back on
Millennium Dome site
The removal of preferred bidder status was unexpected
Legacy plc has lost preferred bidder status for taking over the Millennium Dome.

The decision means other hopefuls can join Legacy in the bidding process - including the Dome's former chief executive, Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, who believes his is the favourite plan with the British public.

Today is the day the Dome was given a second chance

Pierre-Yves Gerbeau
He told BBC News Online he was "thrilled" by the government's "courageous" move and said a fresh bid could be ready in weeks.

The 14 February deadline set by the government to conclude negotiations with Legacy for the sale of the Greenwich site came and went without any agreement.

The surprise removal of Legacy from preferred bidder status follows accusations of government "mishandling" of the Dome sale.

On Tuesday Mr Gerbeau issued a call - backed by the Conservative Party - for the process to be re-opened.

Speaking after the announcement that it had, Mr Gerbeau told BBC News Online: "I am thrilled and very impressed by this courageous and very difficult move by the government.

"We're now moving full blow. We have got the vision, the creativity and a coherent business plan and now all we need is a new direction from the government."

'Public favourite'

He refused to comment on the government's motives, saying: "We are the only ones who have a vision for the Dome as a public venue, we want to keep it as a public venue and that's why we are favoured by the British public."

He added that former Dome staff he had spoken to, who he plans to join forces with again if successful, were all excited at the latest development.

Legacy is reviewing its bid and its chief executive, Robert Bourne, said: "We are both surprised and disappointed by the government's announcement.

"I am afraid I will now have to meet my colleagues and management team over the next few days to discuss whether Legacy continues its interest in the bidding process."

Pierre-Yves Gerbeau
Pierre-Yves Gerbeau: Frustrated over bidding process
Legacy, which has bid 125m for the site, wants to turn the site into a hi-tech business centre.

Mr Gerbeau said his group would be prepared to rent the dome if the government decided to sell off land around the site.

A decision on the Dome's future is needed before the planned auction of its contents, scheduled for the end of this month.

Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat Dome spokesman, said of the government's announcement: "To lose one preferred bidder is unfortunate, to lose a second is perhaps careless.

"This has been going on for a year now and we're back to square one."

Lord Falconer, the minister in charge of the Dome, told BBC News 24 that time had run out for Legacy and the government had decided to throw the bidding process open to other interested parties.

Lord Falconer at Dome site
Lord Falconer: Time ran out for Legacy
He said Legacy had been made preferred bidder in November on condition that it was ready to exchange contracts by 14 February and satisfy various conditions.

Lord Falconer said: "Whilst they have made great progress, they haven't satisfied all those conditions."

He said the government had received a total of 72 expressions of interest since Nomura withdrew its Dome bid last year.

Legacy would not be entitled to compensation, he added, because its rights expired on 14 February.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, in a Commons written answer, said the existing competition had been "terminated" as Legacy's exclusivity has expired.

The government would like to "openly test the market", he said, and there had been "considerable expressions of interest" from other parties.

No deadline has been set so far for the completion of any deal.

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See also:

15 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Dome bidding chronology
31 Dec 00 | Newsmakers
P-Y Gerbeau: King of the Dome
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