Millenium: The Dome will be fantastic - but don't ask me how, says Heseltine

The Millennium Dome will cause people to marvel, former deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine told a Commons select committee yesterday. But David Lister also heard him tell MPs that he did not know how to sell the vision to the public.
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The select committee inquiring into the Millennium Dome was told by the former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine that no one could yet say what the finished exhibition there would look like. But he promised: "I can tell you that 10 years from now people will marvel at what has happened."

He said of the pounds 758m project in Greenwich: "It's a fantastic site and it's going to be quite wonderful but don't ask me how."

This failed to satisfy Labour MP Claire Ward, who fired a series of questions at Mr Heseltine, who oversaw the early stages of the project and remains involved as a Millennium Commissioner. She said: "You say `it's going to be wonderful but don't ask me how'. That's why there's so much scepticism among the public.

"They see a Dome but they don't know what's going to be in it. Don't you think you should have sold the vision to the public?"

Mr Heseltine replied: "I just don't know how to do that. I don't see how you take a bombed out empty site and sell the finished package before you've actually got the package ... You have a bombed out site. How do you sell that vision? You simply say I believe in the festival."

Ms Ward responded: "I still think there should have been a little more substance to the idea because there was so much capital expenditure involved. We still don't have any share in the vision."

Mr Heseltine told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that the Dome would bring in millions of pounds from tourists. Asked why it wasn't going to be a permanent structure, he said: "If you'd gone for a traditional- looking structure you'd have been vilified by the modernists. If you'd gone for a modernist structure you'd have been vilified by the classicists."

Mr Heseltine went on to launch an attack on Labour's pre-election handling of the project. He accused the then opposition of approaching the scheme in a spirit of "unprincipled" and "macho" politics, which he said caused unnecessary delay.

Before the election, Labour demanded assurances about the project before committing itself - on the grounds that it would inherit it in government.

Mr Heseltine said there was now no room for further serious delay: "There is a critical path and we're on it. The then opposition's behaviour before the election I regarded as regrettable."

Mr Heseltine is now the Tories' representative on the Millennium Commission which is overseeing the Dome project, as well as on the special co-ordinating group.

"As such, I have access to the information. Before the election, my role was played by Michael Montague, now Lord Montague. He knew everything about the project. He had all the information.

"He certainly gave the Commission the impression that he had consulted the equivalent and responsible people in the Labour Party.

"What actually happened is that it turned out that he was a busted flush. The moment the heat came on, he was swept aside effectively by Tony Blair and his colleagues, who in my view sought to make political macho politics of their determination to fix budgets.

"We were always going to fix budgets. Michael Montague knew what we were going to do. He had agreed to it and told us Labour had agreed to the procedures. So I did regard the jockeying before the election and the delay before the election as unnecessary and unprincipled."

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