Dome's future at risk as Nomura exits talks

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The Independent Online

The Japanese bank Nomura pulled out of the talks to buy the Millennium Dome yesterday, plunging the future of the attraction into serious doubt and putting 1,900 jobs at risk.

The Japanese bank Nomura pulled out of the talks to buy the Millennium Dome yesterday, plunging the future of the attraction into serious doubt and putting 1,900 jobs at risk.

In a strongly worded statement, Nomura informed ministers and the New Millennium Experience Company that last week's disclosures about the Dome's heavy debts and complex contracts revealed "substantial uncertainties" about its £105m deal. The statement referred to "critical new information" about the Dome's liabilities, the NMEC's "lack of understanding" about its assets, and "a broken undertaking".

Its decision deepened the political crisis surrounding the Dome. Opposition MPs again demanded that Tony Blair sack Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Minister for the Dome, and insisted that the attraction be closed down immediately.

The NMEC said it was "surprised and disappointed" at Nomura's decision and accused the bank of making unfounded criticisms of its financial and contractual situation. Sources close to David James, the NMEC's executive chairman, said he had planned to give Nomura a full sale contract, which answered all its concerns, by this evening.

The collapse of the deal is likely to mean redundancy for the 1,900 NMEC staff who Nomura had promised to hire when it took over the site on 1 January. It also means a substantial delay in the repayment of £53m in lottery grants the NMEC owes to the Millennium Commission, which is meeting today to discuss the crisis.

Nomura's withdrawal undermines last week's claims by Lord Falconer that its plans to invest £800m in a leisure development at the Dome helped to justify giving the NMEC a total of £179m in emergency lottery grants this year.

Lord Falconer attempted to salvage the project by immediately reopening talks with Robert Bourne, the property magnate whose £150m "Legacy" bid to build a hi-tech business campus came second to Nomura's proposal in July. But Mr Bourne's position was thrown into confusion last night after English Partnerships, which owns the Greenwich peninsula, insisted it could yet throw open the bidding process.

Lord Falconer resisted the fresh calls for his sacking but came close to apologising for the latest crisis. "I deeply regret what has happened but I am sure the right course is to continue to work to try to find a solution to the problem," he said.

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