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Dome deal set to tame `Mail'

THE PUBLISHER of the Daily Mail and London Evening Standard is set to be handed the contract to produce a newspaper for the Millennium Dome, in a deal that could help the Government to overcome opposition to the pounds 758 million project.

Associated Newspapers is believed to have beaten off bids from the Express and Mirror groups. The decision to tie up the deal will be taken next month by the government- appointed task force that advises the Dome's New Millennium Experience Commission (NMEC) on marketing.

The deal will allow Associated to produce a four-page supplement containing `Dome News,' which could be wrapped around a copy of one of its own newspapers. It could also be linked into the group's plans to produce a new free newspaper for London, called Metro.

The Dome is forecast to attract 35,000 visitors a day - 12 million during the year it is open. The bidders believe they should be able distribute up to 2m newspapers in the Dome, allowing one title to get into the hands of hundreds of thousands of potential new readers.

For the Government, bringing Associated on board is a chance to get one of the Dome's fiercest critics on to the side of the Dome. The Daily Mail has christened the Dome the `Millennium Monster', and has planned daily articles comparing the hospitals and schools that could have been built with the cost of building the Dome. If the title is printing a special supplement, it will be forced to support the project.

The Sun has already switched its opinions on the Dome after its sister company, the satellite channel BSkyB, paid pounds 12m to sponsor an auditorium being built next to the Dome. For its pounds 12m, Sky gets the right to broadcast live events from the Dome and use the auditorium to stage its own concerts. From being opposed to the money being spent, The Sun is now a supporter.

Matthew Freud, the public relations exexuctive who sits on the NMEC's advisory committee, is known to have recommended Associated for the contract particularly to end criticism from the Evening Standard. While the Mail has been vitriolic in its opposition to the project, the Standard has focused on the inconvenience for Londoners caused by traffic problems.

Associated said it was still awaiting a decision from the NMEC, and denied reports that it had bid pounds 500,000.