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The BBC's Richard Bilton
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Former Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine
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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 12:21 GMT
Blair pays tribute to Dome staff
Tony Blair visits the Dome
Mr Blair talks to Dome performers during his visit
Prime Minister Tony Blair paid a farewell visit to the Millennium Dome on Tuesday to say "a big thank you" to its staff.

Whatever the faults of the politicians you can be really proud of what you have achieved

Tony Blair

On only his second visit to the beleaguered Greenwich attraction Mr Blair was accompanied his deputy John Prescott and former Conservative deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine.

Although the Dome has been widely criticised, not least by Labour backbenchers over the massive amounts of public money used to keep it afloat, Mr Blair said it was now the second biggest paying visitor attraction in Europe, coming after EuroDisney.

His trip takes place a week after the Dome welcomed its six millionth visitor - a milestone that nevertheless falls far short of the original target of 12 million visitors over the year.

The prime minister told a meeting of staff: "I want to give a big thank you to all of you who have worked so hard here.

"Whatever the faults of the politicians you can be really proud of what you have achieved."

'Formidable team'

His visit was welcomed by Dome chief executive Pierre-Yves Gerbeau who said it came as a great boost to a team that had faced increasing pressure over the year.

He said: "The team has been absolutely formidable. They fought together and they delivered."
Pierre Yves Gerbeau
The Dome boss welcomed the PM's visit

Mr Blair also used his visit to underline the government's commitment to the regeneration of the local area.

He said there would be "tens of thousands of jobs, businesses and investment coming into this part of London which otherwise wouldn't have been here and which will repay the original investment many times over.

"If we look at the amount of money and business and investment and jobs that have been created here there's another side of the balance sheet."

Mr Blair had arrived at the Dome by Tube, braving severe delays on the new Jubilee Line.

He also met some of the first families to move into the new Moat housing development.

Echoing the minister's message Mr Heseltine told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the decision to build the Dome had seen the creation of the "largest and most successful urban regeneration project in the world".

'Euan test'

Mr Blair was the foremost government supporter of the Dome, pushing ahead with the project against cabinet resistance following Labour's 1997 election victory.

At the time he said the Dome must pass the "Euan test" and appeal to the tastes of his son, then aged 13.

Euan Blair has since visited the Dome but Downing Street has refused to say what he thought of the attraction.

Euan Blair
No word on whether the Dome wowed Euan Blair
His father last attended its big night - New Year's Eve last year - when it opened amid much fanfare and hype, promising to show off the best of Britain.

He described the spectacle as "the greatest show on earth".

Unfortunately it was also a shambles and public relations disaster, with guests not getting their tickets on time and VIPs having to queue for hours to get in.

This week, the Millennium Commission also publicly admitted the Dome had "fallen short" of its aspirations.

In an open letter to the public, commission members confessed to having "made mistakes" but insisted that if they had not taken risks the country's millennium projects would have been "safe but dull".

First tenant for Dome

The government is now backing the sale of the Dome to Legacy PLC which plans to turn it into a high-tech business park.

As the prime minister's visit takes place the company says its first tenant has signed up for a space in the planned Knowledge City.

Legacy announced on Tuesday that it had signed an agreement with information technology company Sun Microsystems.

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See also:

23 Nov 00 | UK
Dome to the digerati
20 Nov 00 | Business
Legacy given Dome go-ahead
09 Nov 00 | UK
'Ill-fated' Dome condemned
03 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
UK's 'Garden of Eden' takes root
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