Millions roll in for the Millennium makers

Chris Blackhurst on the South-east's biggest cash cow
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The Independent Online
Mark McCormack and Jennifer Page are not the only people cashing in on Peter Mandelson's great millennium extravaganza. Building firms, architects and other advisers stand to make millions of pounds in fees from the part-publicly-funded celebration at Greenwich.

Now under the control of Mr Mandelson, the Minister without Portfolio, the exhibition represents a bonanza for the construction industry. But despite the fact that pounds 400m from the National Lottery will be poured into the event, officials are loath to discuss who will get what to build it. One Millennium Commission offical said that such details were commercially sensitive. When it was put to him that the pounds 400m was technically taxpayers' money and people therefore had a right to know, he argued that the money had ceased to belong to the taxpayers when they bought a lottery ticket.

The twitchiness has been heightened by the controversy over the pounds 9m success fee payable to Mr McCormack if the sports and sponsorship agent secures pounds 150m in private-sector backing. Labour MPs are furious at the contract with this controversial figure who is able to make or break sporting events by withholding his star performers.

They are also annoyed at the pounds 500,000 pay package for Ms Page, head of the company putting the exhibition together. Eric Sorenson, chief executive of the Millennium Commission, has a salary package worth pounds 400,000.

These sums, though, are peanuts compared with the deals of some of the companies involved.

British Gas sold the site, a former gasworks on the Greenwich peninsula on the Thames, to English Partnerships, the government industrial reclamation agency, for pounds 20m. British Gas still owns much of the surrounding land, the value of which will receive a huge boost if the exhibition is a lasting success. The job of decontaminating the site has gone to a firm called Nuttalls, for a fee believed to be about pounds 10m. Laing and Robert McAlpine, the two giant building firms, have a contract worth pounds 150m to develop the site and erect the Millennium dome. The profit element is not disclosed but industry sources say it typically falls between 13 and 20 per cent.

Watsons Steel, a Bolton-based firm, has an pounds 11m contract to supply the steel and steel-cabling for the dome. Koch Hightex, a German company, won the order worth pounds 7m to supply the fabric for the dome's shell. The piling contract has been awarded to Keller Ground Engineering of Coventry for pounds 1.5m.

Still to be decided is which firm is to lay the foundations. A shortlist of British contenders has been drawn up by the organisers.

Plans for the pounds 250m dome are being drawn up by the Richard Rogers Partnership, the architectural firm headed by Lord Rogers, a close friend of Tony Blair. He is thought to be receiving between 3 and 4 per cent of the value of the new building.

Following the disclosure in the Independent on Sunday of the possible scale of Lord Rogers's fee and the prominent role that Mr Blair has played in arguing for the project to go ahead, questions have been asked at Westminster.

Alex Salmond, the Scottish Nationalist MP, has tabled a question demanding to know the exact size of Lord Rogers's fee. MPs from Scotland, the North and the Midlands are particularly angry that the fruits of the millennium celebration and the new jobs it creates will be largely enjoyed by firms in the South-east of England.

The architects are working closely with Buro Happold, a firm of structural engineers. Imagination, another specialist consultancy, had the design brief but has completed its work for the time being.