Bring down curtain on Dome and save millions, says Tory

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The Independent Online

The Tory Party called yesterday for the Millennium Dome to close in October to prevent yet further injections of public money into the beleaguered project.

The Tory Party called yesterday for the Millennium Dome to close in October to prevent yet further injections of public money into the beleaguered project.

Peter Ainsworth, the Conservative spokesman on culture, said it would cost £50m to close the attraction in Greenwich, south-east London, after the summer holidays - a sum much smaller than the loans being offered to keep it afloat.

His comments, which represent the first time the Opposition has called for the Dome to be killed off, prove that the Tories have moved dramatically away from their early support for the project led by Michael Heseltine.

Mr Ainsworth said that the Government now had to face up to the fact that the Greenwich attraction had been a "monumental disaster".

On top of an original £399m lottery grant, the Dome has received four loans totalling £182m from the Millennium Commission. The first loan of £50m was confirmed in November 1999, the second loan of £60m came in February. Despite widespread concern about the second cash injection, the commission agreed an extra £29m in May and £43m in August to avoid early closure.

The original target of 12 million visitors has been repeatedly revised by the New Millennium Experience Company, with six million paying visitors now needed to break even.

Mr Ainsworth said that although both Tony Blair and Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and the Arts, had predicted the Dome would be a success, the reality proved the need for urgent action.

"If a private company ran the Dome it would have been closed by now," he said.

The Liberal Democrats have also called for the Dome to be closed at the end of the summer season. However, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Cabinet Office minister with responsibility for the Dome, has previously insisted the project is "commercially sustainable" and would stay open until December 31 as planned.

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