Dome may drop zone for religion

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A SECTION of the Millennium Dome dedicated to religion might have to be scrapped if a sponsor is not found, the organisers said yesterday. An alternative plan being considered is to use part of the project's contingency fund to finance a drastically scaled-down plan for the spiritual zone.

The funding crisis is putting under threat the plan for the spiritual section of the Dome, which was agreed by the 25-member Lambeth Group of religious advisers to the Millennium project. It includes a pyramid-like spiritual place for contemplation and a "pilgrim's progress" walkway, illustrating the history of religions in Western civilisation.

Liam Kane, managing director of the New Millennium Experience Company, admitted yesterday that it was proving more difficult to find a sponsor for the spiritual zone than for any of the other 13 in the Dome. Each zone sponsor is asked for pounds 12m.

"The design we have is wonderful. It will provide a moment of tranquillity in the midst of what will be a fairly exciting day," he said.

"We haven't given up hope of delivering it, but it's a difficult one. I say a prayer every night which relates to finding a sponsor for the spiritual zone."

A spokesman said the company would ask religious foundations, charitable organisa- tions and wealthy individuals for support before it considered using its pounds 80m contingency money.

He said the company intended to find a sponsor for the zone, which has been designed by the architect Eva Jiricna. "This time last year people were saying we wouldn't get sponsors for the other zones. But if we didn't, the design would have to change. You could have an exploration of religion at the beginning of the new millennium, but you wouldn't have this beautiful structure."

The problems for the spiritual zone were detailed yesterday as Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, announced that at least one spiritual aspect of the millennium celebrations would go ahead. A major church service in each of the four countries of the United Kingdom will be broadcast simultaneously live on television from London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and somewhere in Northern Ireland.

Reporting on the more commercial progress of the Dome project, Mr Kane confirmed it would create 5,000 jobs and up to 40,000 people were expected to apply for them. To ensure they have enough skilled workers, the company is to guarantee an interview to anyone who participates in a pre-employment training scheme leading to technical and trade qualifications. Mr Kane said more than pounds 100m sponsorship was now pledged, although the names of the new donors were not revealed. The five principal sponsors so far are BT, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, BSkyB and Manpower.