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"There are many things I would change with hindsight"
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Thursday, 7 September, 2000, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
I'd build Dome again - Heseltine
Michael Heseltine: Helped launch the Dome project
Michael Heseltine: Helped launch the Dome project
Former Conservative deputy leader Michael Heseltine is standing by his decision to build the Millennium Dome.

It's a bit like going around the cold meats department at the Co-op

Geoffrey Thompson, Blackpool Pleasure Beach
He told Radio 4's Today programme the attraction had boosted the regeneration of Greenwich, though he said the project had not been as big a success as he had hoped.

Mr Heseltine, now a Millennium commissioner, dismissed Tory leader William Hague's call to shut the Dome immediately, saying it would make no financial sense.

"The over-riding argument for locating the Dome at Greenwich was to end those blighted years and to regenerate the site - in that we have been successful," he said.

The fact of the matter is that it is one of the more popular visitor attractions available

Michael Heseltine
He warned that to close the Dome early would hit ordinary businesses.

"If there is no financial gain, the thing would go into receivership and the effect would be to put the cost onto the small business creditors and the staff," he said.

Mr Heseltine said the National Audit Office would be holding an inquiry into the Dome and finding out where mistakes had been made.

"Although I would take the decision again to try and replicate the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Festival of Britain of 1951, there are many things I would change with hindsight," Mr Heseltine said.

'Pointless tent'

But Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes, whose constituents live near the Dome, said in planning the Dome, regeneration had not been foremost in anyone's mind.

"There was always a case for regenerating south-east London but that was never a case made for the Dome," he said.

"If you had asked people, they would have said: 'Yes, we want the area regenerated'. But nobody ever signed up to the idea that the Dome was the great desired objective."

David James
David James: Decision to build the Dome may have been unwise
On Wednesday Tory leader William Hague said the Dome should be closed immediately, dismissing it as "an empty pointless tent in the middle of nowhere".

But the Dome's new trouble-shooter, David James, said early closure would cost 30m to 40m more than staying open for four more months.

He admitted that building the Dome in the first place might have been a bad idea, conceding that it was "a hell of a difficult place to get to".

Appointed on Tuesday, Mr James also criticised the Dome organisers, the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC).

"Where they were amiss was in not providing an adequate record of what they were committed to in all areas," he said.

"There were 2,000 separate contracts involved. Because of circumstances, these contracts were set up in a hurry.

"No single register of all the assets was completed so it is not known what is being sold to Nomura."

Mr James' team will now construct an asset register.

'Not much excitement'

He also suggested the NMEC should have asked for 90m from the advanced sale of the Dome to Japanese finance group Nomura, rather than the 43m received.

He said he believed the company would honour its deal to buy the Dome at the 105m sale price, but admitted the deal was not "signed and delivered".

Meanwhile, the managing director of Blackpool Pleasure Beach has repeated his offer to revive the fortunes of the Dome.

Geoffrey Thompson said that for a 4m consultancy fee his company could turn around the attraction's negative image.

"The trouble is there is not much sense of excitement, is there?

"It's a bit like going around the cold meats department at the Co-op. There's no wow factor at all."

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See also:

06 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Ministers duck the Dome fiasco
07 Sep 00 | UK
Apologise for Dome - Hague
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