Dome hints at closure before end of the year Christmas

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The Independent Online

The company running the Millennium Dome admitted there yesterday was "significant uncertainty" as to whether the attraction will remain open until 31 December.

The company running the Millennium Dome admitted there yesterday was "significant uncertainty" as to whether the attraction will remain open until 31 December.

The New Millennium Experience Company also angered MPs by saying it will have to spend at least £17m extra in National Lottery money to prevent its early closure because it is not getting enough visitors.

The admission, published in its annual accounts for last year, contradicts confident assurances this month by Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, NMEC's chief executive, that the Dome will hit its new target of six million paying visitors and survive without any further grants.

The disclosures have rekindled doubts about the Dome's financial viability, despite its emergency grant in May of £29m in Lottery money from the Millennium Commission, its £20m cuts and increased retail spending by visitors.

The report also confirms that Jennie Page, ousted in February as chief executive, received a £178,983 pay-off, including her legal costs, and is in line for a bonus of up to £150,000. Ken Robinson, who resigned as operations director, received a £147,025 pay-off and could receive a £53,000 bonus.

The report warns that if visitor numbers fall, its money runs out and the income from the sale of the site later this year is less than expected, "the company will either need to seek additional funding or, if that is not forthcoming, cease operations".

Projected income from visitors has been slashed from £194m anticipated last year to just £85m, according to the accounts. This makes it vital to attract more visitors during the school holidays.

Sources said yesterday there are growing fears that if the Government, as expected, chooses the "urban entertainment resort" bid from the Japanese bank Nomura, visitor figures later this year will fall well below target.

NMEC's business plan relies heavily on a late rush of visitors in November and December hoping to catch the Dome before it finally closes. But if they expect to see an amusement park remain at the site, it is feared the public will wait until next year.

The annual report admits NMEC's income from the site's sale is crucial. It expects to receive at least £30m from the sale, but states that it needs to spend a large proportion of that money, at least £17m, before the end of October to help meet its day-to-day running costs.

Peter Ainsworth, the Tory Culture spokesman, said this contradicted claims from both NMEC and the Millennium Commission that they expected £30m for the sale to go back into the New Opportunities Fund for small community projects. "This is absolutely dire," he said. "It's quite clear they are still suffering from an acute cash flow problem and it's quite likely there will be another cash crisis at the Dome before many more weeks pass.

"That £30m should have gone to either the New Opportunities Fund, for health, education and environmental projects, or into the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula, but it's simply going into paying the Dome's debts."

The report also discloses that Mr Gerbeau has cleverly increased the Dome's original £758m budget by adding on £3m set aside for a major advertising campaign. This money comes from the £29m emergency grant in May.