Dome bidder attacks Japanese-owned rival

The final round in the race to buy the Dome was overshadowed by a fierce dispute last night after one bidder attacked the other for being owned by a Japanese bank.

The storm came after the Government announced in the Commons yesterday that two bidders, Legacy and Dome Europe, were on the final short-list to buy the Dome and the surrounding site.

The sale of the 999-year lease could raise more than £50m for the Millennium Commission and the present landowner, English Partnerships. That would help offset the expected funding shortfall for the Dome after visitor numbers failed to meet expectations.

But the announcement was marked by an immediate attack by Legacy, which is headed by the Labour-supporting entrepreneur Robert Bourne, on Dome Europe's Japanese backers and its proposals for the large site at Greenwich on the Thames. Hugh Rosen, a director of Legacy, denied he was being xenophobic, but claimed that Dome Europe's ownership by the Japanese bank Nomura International should "be a warning bell" about its long-term plans for the site.

Dome Europe said it would invest £100m on a hi-tech leisure, technology and retail attraction in co-operation with Hyperentertainments, a division of Sony that makes virtual reality games.

Their bid, thought to be the front-runner, includes a "Play Europe" adventure playground, a "hawker's market" inside the Dome featuring high quality European merchandise, and a Space and Time pavilion playing on Greenwich's historical status.

A spokesman for the project said: "The idea of creating a European attraction will work because it adds to what's best at the Dome. Despite the criticisms, its one of the best visited sites in Europe."

Mr Rosen insisted Legacy's rival bid to spend £150m to build a hi-tech industrial campus around the Dome, including training and business development units, was more constructive and long-lasting.

He said the technology park, supported by the Open University, British Telecom and Imperial College, would help create up to 50,000 jobs locally. "This is an all-British London-based bid," he said.

"There's a history in this country, without being too xenophobic, of various manufacturing industries being sold to foreign interests that don't have any English interests. The Dome shouldn't go the same way. If a Japanese bank buys it, they will pull it down and turn it into houses, shops and an ordinary riverfront development."

A spokesman for Dome Europe, which is headed by Peter Middleton, chairman of the Football League and Luton airport, said Mr Rosen's remarks were "beneath contempt". He said Nomura had a long history of investment in British industry. It owned 5,000 pubs and Thorn, which owns Radio Rentals, and was bidding to buy Hyder, the Welsh utilities company.