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The BBC's Andrew Hosken
"The Millennium Commission confirmed it had received two reports on the viability of the dome"
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Millennium commissioner, Michael Heseltine
"We took decisions on rational grounds"
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Monday, 25 September, 2000, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
Dome 'early warning' claims disputed
Millennium Dome
Dome's visitor numbers have caused controversy
The Millennium Commission has hit back at claims that two reports cast doubt on the Dome's viability long before it opened.

According to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, accountants Deloitte and Touche warned in 1997 that the Dome's projected visitor figures of 12 million would be "difficult to achieve" and said eight million was more realistic.

Our provisional view is that it may be difficult to achieve a target of 12 million visitors

Accountants Deloitte and Touche in 1997

But the commission says the firm advised them that the 12 million visitor target was "achievable", and that the smaller figure was a "worst-case scenario".

Details of the reports emerged as Dome chief executive Pierre-Yves Gerbeau accepted the beleaguered attraction could never have pulled in 12 million visitors.

Dome minister Lord Falconer said the project's problems had been caused by the politics involved rather than its contents.

And on Sunday Prime Minister Tony Blair conceded the Dome has not been the success he had hoped, weeks after Japanese bank Nomura withdrew its 105m offer to buy the attraction.

As news of the reports emerged, it was also claimed that current Wembley chief executive Bob Stubbs, who headed a second report, described the project as the "riskiest he had ever seen in the public and private sector".

But the commission says Mr Stubbs denied ever making the quote attributed to him.

His report, the commission says, described the risk of the Dome as "similar to any large leisure-based project, although some unique factors made it riskier".

Pierre-Yves Gerbeau
Dome chief executive Pierre-Yves Gerbeau says it is a "world class attraction"
A commission spokesman said both reports - received in June 1997, a few weeks before the Cabinet decided to press ahead with the project - had been passed on to the government.

The spokesman said: "The commission decided to support the New Millennium Experience Company's business plan in June 1997 but it recognised that there were risks associated with going forward with this unique project."

"In deciding to go forward, it relied upon the government's commitment, first made in January 1997, that should the Dome need more money it would be provided by an extension of its funded life so that none of the rest of the commission's work would be affected."

It is understood Deloitte and Touche suggested the 12 million target would be achieved only by having two separate visiting sessions every day for 140 days.

The Dome is currently expected to have attracted 4.5 million visitors by the end of the year.

In the report prepared by Mr Stubbs' consultancy firm, it is understood that doubts were raised over the Dome management's expertise.

Tory former deputy prime minister and millennium commissioner Michael Heseltine said consultants always give "a gloomy view".

If Tony Blair knew that the project was likely to be a flop from the start, there is all the more reason for a full apology to the public

Shadow culture secretary Peter Ainsworth

Stressing the timing of the reports, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "You've got the Dome built. A New Labour government is on the verge of deciding to go ahead and some consultants say the figures may be on the high side."

"What do you decide to do? Stop?"

But he said the visitor figures for the Dome had been "disappointing" and conceded: "If we had known it was going to cost this much, we wouldn't have done it."

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott told Today that, bearing in mind the facts presented at the time, he would have still made the same decision on the Dome.

"Let's be clear, nobody ever recommended we shouldn't go ahead with it," he added.

Shadow culture secretary Peter Ainsworth demanded to know what the government knew of the two reports.

"If Tony Blair knew that the project was likely to be a flop from the start, there is all the more reason for a full apology to the public."

Lord Falconer told a fringe meeting at the Labour conference in Brighton: "Unlike Alton Towers, unlike Disneyland, every step of the way this was not just a visitor attraction story, this was a political story."

"It made it much more problematic as it found itself in difficulty."

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See also:

22 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Minister not short on honesty
19 Sep 00 | Business
Fraud squad probes Dome contracts
17 Sep 00 | UK
Dome 'was broke'
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