Countdown to the Millenium: Army called in to sort out Dome acoustics

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The Independent Online
MILLENNIUM DOME organisers have asked military acoustics experts to help them to solve sound problems which could blight the opening of the pounds 758m development.

Their appeal to sonic scientists from the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (Dera), technical arm of the Ministry of Defence, followed discovery that the 150ft tent suffers violent sound distortions, leaving noiseless "dead" zones. Studies revealed other areas were dangerously loud, threatening health fears for the 12 million visitors expected at the Greenwich extravaganza which opens on New Year's Eve and runs for a year.

A Dera spokeswoman said: "We are hoping to do some work on the project using our knowledge of acoustics. It is a question of how the knowledge and expertise of our team of scientists can be put to best use. It is still at a very early stage."

The organisers, the New Millennium Experience Company, will be charged a business rate for the work. Under changes introduced by the Conservatives, Dera can compete for commercial tasks.

Last night opposition MPs called on Lord Falconer, who has replaced Peter Mandelson as the Government's Dome supremo, to reveal the cost of the new soundscaping.

Keith Simpson, shadow defence spokesman, said: "It is crucial that the acoustics are right. But the clock is ticking. The Dome is now only months from opening but fundamental problems still exist. I have no doubt the expertise of the Dera team will prove valuable. But we must know whether taxpayers' money is being used to solve the mess left behind by Peter Mandelson."

A Millennium Company spokesman said final results of the noise tests were not available yet.

The sound problems are the latest in a catalogue of setbacks to hit the scheme since work began 18 months ago.

In August, 1997, Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, branded the project as a "silly temporary building". Shortly after the attack, Peter Mandelson switched the contract for the pounds 25m roof covering for the structure from a German firm to an American one, setting off a six-figure compensation battle.

Last month Lord Falconer admitted that the strike-hit London Underground Jubilee Line extension - which is expected to carry around half of all visitors to the Dome celebrations - may not be ready by the 31 December deadline.