Dome's failure due to lack of 'wow' factor

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The Independent Online

The Millennium Dome came under renewed attack yesterday when a report slated its management and new figures showed it was unlikely to meet its year-end target for visitors.

The Millennium Dome came under renewed attack yesterday when a report slated its management and new figures showed it was unlikely to meet its year-end target for visitors.

The Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee launched a veiled attack on both Peter Mandelson and Lord Falconer, the former and current ministers for the Dome, in its report. The committee concluded that the project suffered throughout from the "absence of a clear line of responsibility".

As well as criticising management, the MPs said that the content of the Dome was uninspiring and lacked a "wow factor" crucial to attracting larger numbers.

They also pointed out that there was still a lack of clarity about the project's finances and recommended that the National Audit Office should begin a wide-ranging inquiry into the whole of its accounts.

The Dome in Greenwich had a record monthly attendance of 606,000 visitors in July, beating the previous record of 579,333 in April, but its daily average was still below that required to reach the target of 7 million.

The figures, which raise the prospect of the need for a further cash injection, are particularly embarrassing because the attendance target has already been cut dramatically from 12 million.

The July attendance figures were boosted by 76,815 children on free school trips as well as the offer of free, late-afternoon admission on 30 July. This offer, devised so visitors could help in a fire drill exercise, led to the Dome recording a one-day record of 42,862 visitors.

But the July daily average was only 19,565 and the attraction will need an average of 21,439 visitors for every day until the end of the year to achieve the reduced target. Total attendance at the Dome for the first seven months of the year now stands at 3.7 million.

The committee said that political involvement was "integral to the project from its very inception" in 1996 under the Tories, but the separation between politicians and operating company was never clearly established by either Government.

Ultimate responsibility for the over-estimation of visitor numbers to the Dome lay with the operators and the government ministers responsible for the project, it said.

Estimations of numbers ranged from 6 million to 15 million admission-paying visitors. The committee said the fluctuations seemed to have been made "without proper regard to the immense financial implications those changes entailed".

"Taken as a whole, the Dome's content is interesting and rewarding, but rarely inspiring. There is no single element to make the visitor gasp in astonishment, to provide the 'wow factor' that was originally sought."

The committee's report was finished before last week's announcement that a Japanese-financed consortium, Dome Europe, would be buying the Dome for around £105m and that £53m of this would be going to the operator.

"For too long, the Dome was perceived as a public monument more than a visitor attraction," it said. "But it was the latter element that would ultimately determine its success or failure."

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on the Dome, said that the project had become a national embarrassment instead of the promised icon of the 21st century.

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