Public to pay for £3m upkeep of Dome after sale

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Taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the maintenance, insurance and security surrounding the Dome – costing up to £3m a year – for years to come in a deal to sell the beleaguered site expected to be announced today.

Taxpayers will have to foot the bill for the maintenance, insurance and security surrounding the Dome – costing up to £3m a year – for years to come in a deal to sell the beleaguered site expected to be announced today.

Ministers have made a secret commitment to pay to keep the Dome in working order until planning permission is granted to turn it into a 20,000-seat arena for pop concerts, boxing and ice hockey.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the minister for the Dome, is expected to try to present the Dome sale as a good deal for the Government that could see more than £500m returned to the taxpayer over the next 25 years, when he announces the sale today. He has previously said that Meridian Delta, the consortium buying the Dome, would foot the cost of maintaining the building after a sale.

But The Independent has learnt that not only will the Government give the Dome to Meridian free but it will agree to continue to pay to keep it in good working order. Maintenance, security and insuring the site will cost about £250,000 a month until the complex planning process has been completed.

However, the Government stands to get up to 50 per cent of profits when the land is developed and the property is sold to occupiers. It may get a share of the profits from the new arena, due to open in 2005.

News of the extra bill will infuriate opposition MPs, who have sharply criticised the continuing costs of maintaining the Dome since it closed in December 2000. A clause in the deal says that as part of the "joint venture" the Government will still be responsible for making sure the building is in good order until work begins on turning it into a stadium. The planning process is expected to take at least 18 months.

"This isn't a question of the Government handing over all the responsibility and waiting for the cash to roll in," said one source. "The upkeep for the Dome will still be a government responsibility. Meridian are not paying for the Dome until they can do something with it."

The £3m-a-year bill will come on top of a £20m demand from Lattice Properties, the property arm of British Gas, which is owed 7.5 per cent of the land's market value. British Gas sold the site to the Government at a huge discount in return for a promise that it would be paid when the site was sold. Whitehall sources said yesterday that they expected to be taken to court by Lattice over the deal.

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