Convention centre setback for dome

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The Independent Online
A giant grain warehouse could replace the millennium dome as the site of a convention centre for London.

A pounds 150m scheme was unveiled yesterday to build the 10,000-seat centre at King's Cross as supporters claimed it was a far more suitable venue than the millennium site, south of the Thames at Greenwich.

The proposals, which have the backing of the Confederation of British Industry and the London Chamber of Commerce, create problems for government officials trying to find a lasting role for the millennium dome. A convention centre was one of the proposed options for the Greenwich site after the millennium celebrations.

London business leaders are concerned that the nearest major convention centre facilities to the capital are at Lille in France, which has a 5,000- seat auditorium.

By comparison, the Wembley Conference Centre, London's biggest such venue, holds only 2,700 and the Birmingham International Convention Centre holds 2,200. The largest facility in Britain is the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow which caters for 3,029 in a purpose-built hall or 11,000 using temporary seating.

As the market for holding international conferences has developed, British venues have found themselves having to compete with the likes of the New Singapore Centre, which can hold 12,000 people in a single hall. In particular, British scientists are increasingly finding themselves obliged to unveil discoveries at overseas conferences.

One of the driving forces behind the King's Cross plans is the Council of Science and Technology Institutes, which represents 10,000 British scientists.

The frontispiece of the new project would be the Granary Warehouse, a six-storey brick building which was built over the Regent's Canal in the last century. Barges would pass beneath the warehouse carrying grain which was stored in the building for distribution around the country.

The warehouse would form the entrance to the larger convention site which would cover 20,000 square metres and would include 2,500 new hotel rooms. The scheme, if it went ahead, would be completed by 2004.

David Edwards of Ove Arup, consultants to the project, said that pounds 50m in public money was likely to be needed in addition to the pounds 100m expected from private developers. Ironically, the scheme's backers said they regarded National Lottery money as the most appropriate source of such funding.

Andrew Hawkins, director of policy at the London Chamber of Commerce, said King's Cross was a more suitable site for a convention centre than Greenwich.

"The most important criterion ought to be whether the convention centre would be commercially viable once it is up and running," he said.

"People will want their accommodation close to the convention centre and would have the West End on their doorstep, whereas there are some serious transport issues if you were to base it at Greenwich."

But Ross Cook, of the New Millennium Experience company, which is running the Greenwich project, said: "A convention centre is an idea that has been mooted. We are talking to a whole range of people about the long- term use of the site."

He said that a major sports centre run by the English Sports Council was a more likely option, but an exhibition centre was also being considered.