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Friday, 31 December, 1999, 16:00 GMT
Smith is minister for fiascos, say Tories

About 2,000 Dome guests have failed to receive tickets

Culture Secretary Chris Smith has denied Tory accusations he is "minister for fiascos" following the chaos over the allocation of Millennium Dome tickets.

Into 2000
About 2,000 guests did not receive their tickets for the official opening of the Dome in Greenwich.

Further down river, the BA London Eye wheel has been declared unsafe for passengers.

Shadow culture spokesman Peter Ainsworth cited both hitches in the UK's massive millennium celebrations as evidence that Mr Smith was requiring a reputation as "minister for fiascos".

The completion of the 758m Dome had become "a nightmare", said Mr Ainsworth.

The Dome will be opened minutes before midnight
He said he was not even sure whether his own tickets for the celebrations in Greenwich had arrived.

Mr Ainsworth said: "The completion of the Dome project has been such a nightmare for those involved. Maybe eyes were not on the right balls about the tickets at the right time.

"Chris Smith is getting a bit of a reputation for being a minister for fiascos."

Mr Ainsworth said it was surprising that safety checks on the millennium wheel were not made "in a timely way".

Mr Smith said he agreed with the decision not to allow passengers on to the wheel on the banks of the Thames.

But he admitted the sending out of Dome tickets had not been "the smoothest of operations".

He said: "Obviously there are one or two problems that are almost inevitable when you have major events like these being planned."

Mr Smith said security checks had caused the delay in issuing tickets as guests, including himself, had been required to complete required forms.

Could the Dome become as popular as the Eiffel Tower?
He said: "It certainly hasn't been the smoothest of operations, and that's disappointing for everyone, but what happened was a lot of security information was requested from the people who were getting tickets.

"I gather there were problems in getting all those forms, all that information back in, that was the cause of the difficulty."

But he said he believed those without tickets would be allowed into the Dome and he was sure the night would not end in chaos.

Mr Smith said: "A lot of hard work has been put in over the course of the last couple of days to make sure it does go smoothly."

The 758m Dome has been controversial and has not proved universally popular with the public.

But Prime Minister Tony Blair and Mr Smith both defended it hours before the official opening.

Writing in the programme for the opening ceremony, Mr Blair said: "This truly remarkable structure and the Millennium Experience inside it have achieved world-wide recognition as symbol's of the United Kingdom's creativity, inventiveness, and focus on the future.

"Throughout 2000, the Dome will inspire, entertain, and educate all who visit, providing a once in a lifetime experience."

Mr Smith said: "This sort of thing has always been said, it was said of the Festival of Britain at the time, it was said when the Parisians built the Eiffel Tower, everyone up to the moment of opening says "this is a waste of money, should we be doing this" and of course when it opens everyone suddenly says "this is rather special, we want to go and see it".

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See also:
30 Dec 99 |  UK
Millennium wheel fails safety test

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