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Millennium Dome

The Millennium Dome is a large dome that was constructed on the Greenwich peninsula in London. The project was financed by the UK government to celebrate the arrival of the 3rd millennium AD. Its exterior is reminiscent of the dome built for the Festival of Britain in 1951. The architect was Richard Rogers[?].

During the whole of 2000 the Dome was open to the public, and contained a large number of attractions and exhibits. These were dismantled at the end of the year, then auctioned off.

The Dome is now closed. It is still of interest to the press, the government's difficulties in disposing of the Dome being the subject of much critical comment. Also criticised has been the amount spent on maintaining the closed building - some reports indicated the Dome was costing 1 million per month to maintain during 2001, but the government claimed these were exaggerations.

In December 2001 it was announced that Meridian Delta Ltd. had been chosen by the government to develop the Dome as a sports and entertainment complex, and to develop housing, shops and offices on 150 acres of surrounding land. Meridian Delta is backed by the American billionaire Phillip Anschutz[?], who has interests in oil, railroads, and telecommunications (the troubled Qwest), as well as a string of sports-related investments. They intend to demolish and redevelop the site of the London Arena at Crossharbour on the Isle of Dogs as part of their scheme to establish a programme of mass entertainments in the Dome.

Table of contents

The Engineering Setting aside the political and financial failings of the project, the Dome is an impressive structure. Externally it appears as a large, brilliant white marquee with twelve 100m-high yellow-painted support towers. In plan view it is circular, 365m in diameter, with scalloped edges. It has become one of England's most easily recognised, if not best loved, landmarks. It can easily be seen on aerial photographs of London, including the title sequence of the popular soap-opera EastEnders.

The canopy is made of PTFE[?], a highly durable and weather-resistant plastic, and is 50m high in the middle. Its symmetry is interrupted by a hole through which a ventilation shaft from the Blackwall Tunnel[?] rises.

Apart from the Dome itself, the project included the reclamation of the entire Greenwich peninsula. The land was previously derelict and contaminated by toxic sludge from an earlier gasworks that operated from 1889 to 1985. The clean-up operation was seen by the deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine as an investment that would add a large area of useful land to the crowded capital. This was billed as part of a larger plan to regenerate a large, sparsely populated area to the east of London and south of the River Thames, an area initially called the East Thames Corridor but latterly marketed as the "Thames Gateway".

The Politics The project was largely perceived by the press to have been a flop: badly thought-out, badly executed, and leaving the government with the embarrassing question of what to do with it afterwards. Part of the problem was that the financial predictions were based on unrealistically high forecasts of visitor numbers. During 2000 the organisers repeatedly asked for, and received, more cash from the government.

The Exhibits Another other major problem was that, having inherited a grandiose project for a Festival of Britain or World's Fair-type showcase from the previous Tory government, the organisers of the project did not in fact have much of an idea of what to place in it for the public to see. The result was a disjointed assemblage of thinly-veiled corporate-sponsored promotions, burger stalls, and lacklustre museum-style exhibits that were so weak as to appear almost as parodies.

The interior space was subdivided into 14 so-called zones - Body, Work, Learning, Money, Play, Journey, Self Portrait, Living Island, Talk, Faith, Home Planet, Rest, Mind, and Shared Ground. Some of the Zones were perceived as lacking in content and pandering to political correctness. The Journey Zone, outlining the history and development of transportation, was one of the few singled out for praise.

The central stage show had music by Peter Gabriel and an acrobatic cast of 160, and was performed 999 times over the course of the year. A specially commissioned Blackadder film was shown throughout the year in a separate cinema on the site. These features escaped the criticism that was heaped on the rest of the project although the lyrics and meaning of the spectacular stage show were impossible to follow. The music was later released on Gabriel's album Ovo (complete with lyrics!), but sadly there seems to be no video record of the show. It would in any case be impossible to do justice to the scale of the show on video, although an IMAX film might just have managed to. It should be added that had the higher forecasts of attendance proved correct, then the visitors' enjoyment would have been greatly reduced by queuing and general congestion.

Chronology of the Project

Millennium Commission established by Prime Minister John Major and handed over to deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine.
January 1996
Greenwich site selected. Birmingham, Derby and Stratford[?] had been considered as alternatives.
December 1996
Government decides to support the project with public money after being unable to raise private capital.
January 1997
New Prime Minister Tony Blair decides to continue the project, although his cabinet is not unanimous.
June 20 1997
Peter Mandelson MP put in charge of the New Millennium Experience Company.
January 1998
Creative director Stephen Bayley quits the project
December 23, 1998
Peter Mandelson resigns from government after a financial scandal.
January 4, 1999
Lord Falconer replaces Mandelson.
May 1999
The Jubilee Line Extension[?] opens, connecting the Dome is connected to the London Underground. This too is seen as disorderly, opening late and with station facilities not yet complete (eg lifts for wheelchair access)
June 22 1999
Structure of Dome completed.
December 31 1999 & January 1, 2000
Opening night is a disaster, as VIP guests are kept waiting outside for hours because of a ticketing problem.
January 1 2000
Dome opens to public.
August 1 2000
Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee publishes adverse report on Dome's management.
September 25 2000
Michael Heseltine, the Dome's original sponsor, admits that it was a bad idea.
November 7 2000
Thieves break in to the diamond exhibit during opening hours but are foiled by waiting police.
November 9 2000
National Audit Office publishes report blaming unrealistic attendance targets for the Dome's financial problems.
December 31 2000
Dome closed to the public, having attracted just over six million visitors. The initial projected figure was twelve million.
December 2001
Announcement of sale of site to Meridian Delta Limited, who plan to turn it into a 20,000-seat sports and entertainment venue. Houses and offices will be built on the surrounding land subject to the consent of the London Borough of Greenwich.
February 18 2002
Four men jailed for the attempted diamond robbery in 2000.
Scheduled opening date for refurbished Dome.

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