Bank pulls out of deal to buy Dome

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The Independent Online

Japanese bank Nomura International today pulled out of its £105 million deal to buy the cash-strapped Millennium Dome, saying it had been unable to examine vital financial information.

Japanese bank Nomura International today pulled out of its £105 million deal to buy the cash-strapped Millennium Dome, saying it had been unable to examine vital financial information.

The bank said it had "reluctantly" withdrawn from negotiations to take over the Dome from next year because of "substantial uncertainty" about what assets the New Millennium Experience Company could deliver to it on the transfer.

Nomura said NMEC had been unable to provide it with information on the assets of the Dome and details of a report by accountant PriceWaterhouseCoopers on the Dome's finances.

By starting ticket discounts NMEC had also broken an agreement with Nomura when it was appointed preferred bidder for the Dome, Nomura said.

There were disputes with suppliers to the Dome who were claiming ownership of various assets of the Dome, Nomura added.

It accused NMEC of failing to keep up the repair and maintenance of the Dome.

Guy Hands, Nomura's head of principal finance, said: "This was a very difficult decision to make but in the circumstances we had no alternative.

"I feel very sorry for the people of Greenwich and particularly for the Dome's employees who face an uncertain future through no fault of their own."

A Government spokesman said later that defeated bidder Legacy had renewed its interest in the Dome site in the wake of the Nomura pullout.

The Legacy bid was a business-oriented option rather than an entertainment-based venture.

The announcement led to renewed calls for Lord Falconer, the minister responsible for the Dome, to resign. He said, however, that he intended to stay and resolve the problems.

Lord Falconer said: "It is a very, very regrettable development that Nomura have pulled out but the government has indicated today that it is in talks with the people who came second.

"And there were second in what was described at the time as a very strong field. We are determined that a good deal will be done."

When asked whether he should resign Lord Falconer said: "No I think the right course of action is for me to stay where I am and deal with the problems in relation to the Dome.

"I think the right course is for me to stay with the project.

"We do take responsibility for what is happening and we need to ensure proper steps are now taken. I have not offered the Prime Minister my resignation. The responsibility of the minister installed is to ensure proper management.

"But I am not the person managing the company and the right course is not to interfere on a daily basis but to see what they are doing and if there are problems make changes."

When asked about the PriceWaterhouseCooper document Lord Falconer said: "They revealed that there were certain liabilities.

"There are issues about certain aspects and these are problems that need to be resolved.

"I understand that NMEC have replied to allegations about ticket price reduction and that it is not true.

"It is the determination of the government that the Dome will stay open till the 31 December and we will work to that end.

"I think that the right course is to keep it open till 31 December but it is a difficult decision.

"Though I am sure it is the right decision both in interest of regeneration and of those employed at the Dome.

Peter Ainsworth, the Conservatives' culture spokesman, said: "Every time the public is told nothing more can go wrong, it does, and today's news raises serious questions about whether more lottery money will have to go into this project.

"Given that Nomura were denied access to the PriceWaterhouseCooper report and nobody seems to know who owns the Dome's assets, or what they are worth, or what their liabilities are, it is hardly surprising Nomura has pulled out.

"Nobody is going to buy a pig in a poke. Who would buy a used Dome from this Government."

The Liberal Democrats' spokesman on the Dome, Norman Baker, said: "The Millennium Dome isn't going to roll, but heads should.

"The Government Dome strategy is falling apart. It is inconceivable that no minister will take responsibility for this. This is the old Tory habit of denying responsibility when things go wrong.

"We need an urgent statement on how the Government intends to move things forward. One thing is clear: no more lottery money should be put in as a consequence of this," he added.

NMEC said it was "surprised and disappointed" by the decision to pull out and rejected Nomura's claims as unfounded.

The company said executive chairman David James had drafted in extra legal and accounting resources to deliver an agreement with Nomura as soon as possible.

Talks, it said, "had been progressing well in an atmosphere if co-operation and goodwill".

It added: "We are therefore surprised and disappointed by this development, particularly the stated reasons, which we believe are without foundation.

"The Dome will stay open to the end of the year, and NMEC will run it up to that time as the UK's leading paying visitor attraction.

"Other possibilities will be explored for keeping the Dome as a visitor attraction.

A statement issued by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said that the Government regretted that Dome Europe had withdrawn its offer to buy the Dome but was still firmly committed to the regeneration of the Greenwich Peninsula.

It read: "The Government regrets that Dome Europe has decided to withdraw its offer to buy the Dome, after the substantial efforts by all parties to secure the deal.

"The Government is firmly committed to the regeneration of the Greenwich Peninsula. The Peninsula and the wider area have already benefitted substantially from the decision to site the Millenium Experience on the Peninsula and these benefits will continue."

The statement continued: "The Government welcomes the renewed approach it has received from Robert Bourne's Legacy plc - who were in the final shortlist earlier in the year.

"The Government's objective remains to find the best deal to deliver long term regeneration of the peninsula, benefits for the local community and best value for the taxpayer."

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