Cabinet toes line on millennium show

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The Independent Online
The Cabinet is expected today to give the go-ahead to the pounds 838m Millennium Exhibition which has now enlisted the talents of Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the West End's leading producer of musicals.

Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, will present a paper to the Cabinet giving details of how the requirements set by Tony Blair - costs, legacy, national programme, management and content - will be met.

At a press conference this afternoon Peter Mandelson, Minister without Portfolio, who has been put in charge of the project, will announce that there will be a large "drum arena" at the centre of the dome with a 10,000- strong capacity. Visitors to the exhibition will all first attend a live performance in this arena which will be created by a team led by Sir Cameron Mackintosh and his colleague, theatre director John Napier.

There has been widespread opposition within the Cabinet with virtually all its members opposed to the plan apart from the Prime Minister who has wanted to retain the opportunity for giving Britain a modern image.

Despite all this opposition which echoed in the wider Labour Party as well, with many Labour MPs privately angry at the decision to retain the exhibition, Mr Mandelson and Mr Blair are determined to press ahead. Indeed the decision illustrates the extent to which Mr Blair is running his Government singlehandedly as he is prepared to make decisions in the face of opposition from the Cabinet.

Yesterday, doubts still remained over the dome. The centre piece of the exhibition will be retained after the year-long exhibition and the year's extension which it is likely to be granted. The owner of the land, English Partnerships, a government quango, does not want to see the dome retained but it is difficult to see how the conditions set by Mr Blair - that there should be a lasting legacy - can be met if it is to be demolished straight after the exhibition.

Mr Mandelson, however, is confident that "the exhibition will provide fascination, opportunities for learning and fun" and will meet the now- famous Euan factor - the requirement that Mr Blair's 13-year-old son, Euan, will enjoy the show.

The exhibition needs at least 10 million people to visit it, each paying around pounds 20 in order to meet the financial targets. Under the conditions imposed by the new Government, the exhibition must not receive any public money apart from the pounds 200m of Lottery money already earmarked by the Millennium Commission and a pounds 250m contingency fund which is widely expected to be used given that so much work needs to be carried out for the official opening on 31 December 1999.

The original ideas put forward by the design company, Imagination, based on the theme of time, are to be largely retained, although the Government is very keen on emphasising the further rather than the past.

Mr Mandelson said last night that people are fascinated by having glimpses into the future and "we will try to ensure there are as many as possible".