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Monday, 26 February, 2001, 17:04 GMT
New calls for Dome minister to go
The Dome before it closed at New Year
The Dome still causing controversy three months after closing
Lord Falconer, the minister for the Millennium Dome, has come under renewed pressure to resign over his handling of its sale.

Shadow culture secretary Peter Ainsworth said the minister must quit as a matter of "national and public probity".

Lord Falconer
Lord Falconer: Will he stay or will he go?
"Having bungled two attempts to sell the Dome, the government is in the process of bungling a third," he told the Commons.

"It's a story of mind-blowing incompetence."

Tourism minister Janet Anderson said details of a new round of bidding to take over the Dome, in Greenwich, south-east London, would begin soon.

Skill and judgement

Dismissing calls for Lord Falconer's resignation, she said: "He has conducted a very difficult exercise with great skill and judgement."

It's a story of mind-blowing incompetence

Shadow culture secretary Peter Ainsworth
Legacy, a consortium which wanted to turn the Dome into a high-tech business park, lost its status as "preferred bidder" earlier this month after doubts it could attract companies to move there.

Ms Anderson told the Commons that the upkeep of the site - which attracted only half the original number of target visitors before it closed at the end of 2000 - was costing between 2.5m and 3.5m a month.

A performer's costume included in the Dome sale
Costumes up for sale in the Dome auction
That figure would fall to 500,000 when the New Millennium Experience Company, which runs the Dome, was fully wound up.

An auction of 17,000 items of Dome memorabilia, including a giant seagull made from recycled kitchen utensils, a pair of diamond-studded football boots and a six-foot-tall hamster, starts on Tuesday.

Mr Ainsworth demanded to know why the contents were being sold before it became clear would be buying the building and what it would be used for.

Public deserve better

Echoing the words of P Y Gerbeau, the former Disney executive brought in to try to rescue the attraction, Mr Ainsworth said: "The British public deserve something better".

He has conducted a very difficult exercise with great skill and judgement

Janet Anderson on Lord Falconer
Describing the Dome as the most successful visitor attraction in the UK, Ms Anderson said nothing would be done that would prejudice future uses of the building.

"The government is determined to see the Dome stay on site because it is recognised as an icon around the world. "

She said it had been a major catalyst in regenerating the Greenwich peninsula, one of the most deprived parts of London.

New bids

Since the Legacy consortium lost its preferred bidder status, more than 70 organisations have said they would like to take it over.

The BBC has said it would be interested in using the site as an entertainment complex showing life-size exhibits from productions such as EastEnders and Walking With Dinosaurs.

Mr Gerbeau wants to develop the site as a visitor centre capable of attracting stars such as singer Michael Jackson or hosting big sporting events.

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