Blair admits Dome is 'not success we hoped'

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair admitted for the first time yesterday that the Millennium Dome at Greenwich was not a success, and suggested that the Government lacked the expertise to run it as a visitor attraction.

Tony Blair admitted for the first time yesterday that the Millennium Dome at Greenwich was not a success, and suggested that the Government lacked the expertise to run it as a visitor attraction.

The Prime Minister said he took "full responsibility" for the ill-fated project, as he tried to fight back after a disastrous two weeks for his Government.

Interviewed on BBC Television's Breakfast with Frost, Mr Blair said: "It [the Dome] has not been the success we hoped. There is no point in denying that."

Looking back at the Cabinet's decision to continue the project in 1997, he said: "What I'm saying is that probably if I had known then what I know now about governments trying to run a visitor attraction it was too ambitious. These things do take time to settle down."

But Mr Blair refused to endorse the damning criticism by Clare Short, the outspoken International Development Secretary, who said last week the project had been a flop. He said: "I don't apologise for trying to do something really ambitious for the Millennium... It's not been the runaway success we had hoped but neither has it been the disaster that's been portrayed in some parts of the media ."

He insisted a large area of Greenwich had been reclaimed and 30,000 jobs created over the next five to seven years. The Dome was also still the most popular visitor attraction in Britain and the second most popular in Europe, with more than six million visitors.

Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary, said the Dome had been a success in terms of regeneration, but he admitted: "It has lost money and I think it is right we should say, look, this was not what was intended, it hasn't worked as well as we wanted it to and we should acknowledge that."

Mr Blair also tried to counter opinion-poll findings that he was "arrogant" and "out of touch", by stressing that he understood the public anger over petrol prices. "We were well aware of how seriously people felt about it and people still feel petrol is very expensive. It is very expensive."

He hinted the Government would respond to the protesters but said he could not accept their 60-day deadline. "We will try and do what we can but we are not in a position to take the decisions. We have got to look at the sums and the figures."

On the petrol shortages, Mr Blair said: "I think it's clearly obvious that people were angry and wondered how on earth this could have happened. It happened on my watch so I take responsibility for it."

Seeking to rally Labour's troops at the start of the party conference, Mr Blair said: "These are difficult times for us but I believe what's important for us is to keep focused on the big issues." In the end, voters would contrast Labour's record on public services with the prospect of £16bn of Conservative spending cuts.

The position of Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the minister responsible for the Dome, is expected to be undermined by a report from the National Audit Office next month, increasing the pressure on him to resign. The report is likely to criticise the New Millennium Experience Company, in which Lord Falconer is the sole shareholder, for failing to respond to demands by the Millennium Commission to cut its losses.

Peter Ainsworth, the shadow Culture Secretary, said Mr Blair should now apologise for the Dome's failure. "When are we going to see any minister shoulder the responsibility for this catastrophic fiasco? The Prime Minister should start by sacking Lord Falconer."

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