MPs warn on Dome trip into unknown

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A parliamentary search for the Dome Experience has turned into a millennium mystery tour, according to a Commons committee. Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, reports as Peter Mandelson and colleagues are held to account.

A strong warning was issued yesterday to Peter Mandelson, the Minister without Portfolio, who has been dubbed "Dome Secretary", and the New Millennium Experience Company, that time is running out if they want the project to be a success.

"The Millennium Dome is designed to commemorate a particular moment in time," the all-party Culture, Media and Sport Committee said. "The theme of the Millennium Experience will be time. To complete the Dome and ensure that its contents can entertain and inspire will require the organisers to win a race against time ... The potential is enormous, but there will be no second chance."

In a report that bore the personal imprint of the chairman, Gerald Kaufman, the committee criticised the absence of strategic thinking about the means of transporting 12 million people to the Greenwich site; said it was "puzzled" by contradictory statements about the time the exhibition would last; called for greater accountability for the scheme which will cost at least pounds 449m in public money; and said that just as there was no visible marketing campaign, neither were there any clues as to what the Dome would contain.

"However inspirational the Dome," the report said, "the impact of the Experience will depend principally upon what is inside the Dome in 2000.

"It was on this most important of topics that we found official witnesses to this inquiry least informative. The company asked for our understanding of the primary needs to attract sponsors and to ensure that the product launch did not `go off half-cocked'. The company knows what will be in the Dome but cannot tell us.

"At times, the process of discovering the proposals for the content of the Dome was akin to drawing teeth. From what we know so far, the Millennium Experience is not so much a journey through time, as ... a journey into the unknown."

The committee said it knew much more about what the Dome would not contain. It was not going to be a trade show, a Disneyland adventure, a tacky theme park, or a museum.

According to the Government, there would be a central show space with seating for 10,000 people to watch " a spectacular and emotional performance combining live action, multi-media and special effects." The committee concluded: "This is a public project which needs to generate public support and excitement and which should involve the public."

In spite of the barbs, the MPs were evidently impressed by a site visit. "The Dome is magnificent in conception and likely to be breath-taking in execution," the report said.

The Millennium Dome. Second Report of Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Session 1997-98. Commons paper 340-i. Stationery Office; pounds 9.