We must start thinking how the Dome can help London

'It is obvious that he economic centre of gravity in the the capital is moving eastwards'
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The Independent Online

The Dome is a classic example of what happens when politicians make style more important than content. Despite the bad publicity, the appalling cost, the bizarre hype, the Dome is a wonderful building. If we were judging it on a purely architectural level, nearly everyone would agree that the Dome was an amazing success. The problem with the Dome is that no one really decided in advance what it was for.

The Dome is a classic example of what happens when politicians make style more important than content. Despite the bad publicity, the appalling cost, the bizarre hype, the Dome is a wonderful building. If we were judging it on a purely architectural level, nearly everyone would agree that the Dome was an amazing success. The problem with the Dome is that no one really decided in advance what it was for.

Buildings should be there to serve a purpose. In the case of the Dome, right from its inception, no one has been 100 per cent clear on what it was actually for. It was simply going to be impressive. But impressive is not enough, as the Dome's difficult life has so far proved. The latest twist ­ Peter Mandelson complaining that the Dome sell-off is going badly ­ only underlines that point.

I do think it would have made more sense for the Dome to have been open for longer. A site such as this needs a long-term future so that the attraction can become a feature of people's lives. Furthermore, given the importance of such projects in regeneration terms, a longer shelf life would have secured more stable job prospects for local people.

At some point soon, the Dome's future will find its way on to my desk, when I will have to consider planning applications on the site. Only when I see these proposals, and know the outcome of the Government's negotiations on the future of the site, will I be able to come to firm conclusions about the way forward. My approach, therefore, is to concentrate my public statements on the Dome to those areas where I have direct responsibility and powers, and to do so at the appropriate time.

None the less, it is obvious that, whatever happens, the economic centre of gravity in the capital is moving eastwards, and the Greenwich peninsula is a potentially important aspect of that shift, along with Canary Wharf, the Royal Docks and Stratford. Consequently, there are real transport issues to be tackled, not least of which is the pressure on the Jubilee Line.

I have so far taken the view that the Greater London Authority's position should be based on the strategic importance of the Dome's location to London. Other important policy issues, such as car parking, affordable housing and protected wharves, follow from establishing the future of the site. This means seeing the Dome not just as an isolated problem, but working out where it fits into London as a whole.

The Greenwich peninsula, of which the Dome area is the most accessible by public transport, occupies a pivotal position in east London. This arises partly from it being one of the largest brown-field development opportunities in the capital, and one which benefits from some important infrastructure, including the new Jubilee Line station.

But it also has huge strategic importance because it is right in the middle of the Thames Gateway area. It is located at the great bend in the Thames, which millions of TV viewers see every time they watch the opening titles of EastEnders. And by virtue of the Jubilee Line ­ when London Underground can work out how to get it to work ­ the site is connected to Stratford, with its forthcoming international station and potential to become the central area for east London.

The east is important to London's economy because of the huge scope for development and new infrastructure, and these locations could act as a powerful magnet to pull investment and employment eastward. To play its central part in this process, the Dome and adjoining land ­ including the wharf site to the west, north of the river-crossing route ­ should probably develop as a location primarily for major employment-generating development, related to the public transport hub at North Greenwich. It would probably be a waste of this location to use the land opportunistically for housing; this is the time to take a long-term view of what is in London's strategic interest and reject short-term answers.

I definitely think that any future of the Dome location should follow the principle established by the New Millennium Experience Company to relate the employment and other benefits of the site to surrounding communities, particularly regarding training. As well as the local council ­ Greenwich ­ this ought to include the neighbouring boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham, as well as communities further afield along public transport routes. The accessibility of the location is one of its prime assets, particularly from deprived areas of inner east and south London.

For a government that has prided itself on prudence, the Dome, like its plans for the Tube, has been an extraordinary example of politicians sticking to their guns when every sensible view was ringing the warning bells. In the process, vast amounts of public cash were thrown at the project. If the site has a future, then it must move out of the short-termism of the last few years and play its part in the economic dynamism and regeneration of the east of London.

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