Wheel comes off Millennium Day

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The Independent Online
IT SEEMED like such a good idea at the time: build the biggest ferris wheel in the world and raise it alongside the Thames in London in time for the Millennium so hundreds of people can celebrate New Year's Eve in a unique way.

Only it did not quite happen that way. The organisers of the London Eye were forced to admit yesterday that the Millennium wheel, which struggled to make it upright at all, would not be open to the public before 9 January.

The nine-day delay stems from the debacle which postponed the raising of the wheel for four weeks - a cable snapped and a new one had to be constructed at a factory in France. No sooner was the wheel upright than environmental protesters scaled it and lashed themselves to the structure overnight.

A spokesman said the wheel would turn on New Year's Eve, but only for invited guests and people who won competitions for places. "We wanted it to be perfect for the people who have booked tickets and we didn't want to end up with an unrealistic date to launch the wheel," he said. "We had the four-week delay, then we had to make a decision about when we make the tickets available.

"The wheel will be turning by New Year's Eve but we need the extra time to finish off the cafes, ticket offices and landscaping because we want it to be perfect for those who have paid pounds 7.50 for their ride."

The wheel is now upright, and, last night, free of protesters. Engineers have started attaching the 32 glass capsules to the frame and hope to finish by the end of next week. Each weighs just over nine tons and will hold 25 passengers.

Once the first 12 are in place there will be a further delay while an extra cable is run from the central spindle to the concrete base to stop it from tipping over. Then the other capsules will be attached.

There was yet another hitch yesterday - torrential rain and high winds swept London and halted work.