The Millennium Dome was a project intended to commemorate the passing of the second millennia and the entrance to the third one. Nowadays it has become one of the most recognizable features of tourism in the United Kingdom. You can easily recognize it if you fly over London. As the official website of the Millennium Dome states:
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“The new millennium officially started in Greenwich, England on 1st January 2001; The World’s biggest dome was built on the Meridian Line (The Prime Meridian of the World) in Greenwich to celebrate this historic event.” (“The World’s Biggest Dome”, 2009, pg. 1 of 3).
The Millennium Dome was conceived as part of the new Millennia celebrations that would take place in London. Other than the Millennium Dome, part of the celebrations in London was the construction of the Millennium Bridge and the London Eye tower (“The Millennium Dome”, 2009, p. 1 of 2). Its purpose, when conceived, was also to act as a reminder of the past millennia and the various achievements during it.
The initial project began to emerge in the times of the Conservative government led by John Major. It was initially conceived as a type of “Festival of Britain” or “World’s Fair-type” showcase for the celebrations of the changing of millennia. But it was the next government elected, the Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair which greatly expanded the size, scope, and funding of the project (“The Millennium Dome”, 2009, p. 1 of 2).
Under this government, the project took a completely different look and it greatly increased expectations from the public of the final product. As Prime Minister Tony Blair declared just before its opening Blair the Dome would be “a triumph of confidence over cynicism, boldness over blandness, excellence over mediocrity” (“Dome woes haunt Blair”, 2009, 2001, p. 1 of 2).
The initial plan was that after the exhibition the Millennium Dome was to be converted into a football stadium. It was forecasted that this stadium would last for 25 years and the London-based football club, Charlton Athletic was considered to be the one relocating to this new stadium. But instead of accepting, the club decided to redevelop their “old” stadium. After this situation another local football club, Fisher Athletic expressed their intentions and interest to relocate to this new Dome stadium. Unfortunately, they were considered to have too small a fan base and relocation was denied (The Millennium Dome”, 2009, p. 2 of 2).
On the initial plan, after the London Arena was to be closed, its functions were to be taken over from the Millennium Dome. But this segment of the original plan was also not fulfilled and today these functions are performed by The O2 arena.
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We cannot forget to mention the chief architect for the development of the Millennium Dome: Richard Rogers. Also, the structure of the building and its construction process was headed by engineer Buro Happold. The contractor that won the right of construction was a joint venture company, McAlpine / Laing Joint Venture (MLJV).
This joint venture was formed between Sir Robert McAlpine and Laing Management (“The Millennium Dome”, 2009, p. 2 of 2).
It is interesting to mention that the building was projected not as a classical dome although it looks much like one. For example, the entire roof structure has a minor weight than the air which is located inside the building. The Millennium Dome is a mast-supported, dome-shaped cable network.
The Dome comprises several leisure and entertainment areas. As I mentioned above its purpose was to remind people of the achievements of the last millennia and the hopes for the future of human life. The interior space of the Millennium Dome is divided into fourteen parts. These fourteen parts are grouped into three categories. The first is “who we are” which comprises four spaces, sectors: body, mind, faith, and self-portrait. The second category is “what we do” which comprises seven sections: work, learn, rest, talk, play, travel, and money. And the third category is “where we live which comprises the remaining three sectors which are: share ground, living island and home planet. In the middle of these sections was a “performance arena” on which the new Millennium was welcomed by the music of Peter Gabriel and a team of more than 150 acrobats (“Dome Woes haunt Blair”, 2001, p. 2 of 3).
At the end of the year 2000, it was proposed that under the tent area should be created a business park with all the high technology facilities. This would resemble an “indoor city” which would have streets, cafés, and parks along with various building structures.
This type of park had been the 19996 proposals for this area before the Millennium Dome idea came around.
Anyway, the dome was publicly renamed at the end of May 2005 as The O2. A multi-million per year contract was signed with the information technology and telecommunications company O2 plc.
This fabulous structure has been visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists since the time it was opened to the public. But its construction and usage have been covered with controversy and allegations that it has been used for political purposes. Below we will present a survey of the literature of this project and a short survey of a little sample of undergraduate students.
In the political literature is often accepted that the Millennium Dome project has been the major factor in the ending of the public career for Peter Mandelson and John Prescott (“Mandelson: Dome alone”, 1998, p. 1).
Since the beginning, one of the major concerns was if this project was going to be sustainable enough to carry on. Sustainability has been the key factor of opposition to this project. The costs for the Millennium Dome increased year after year and the labor government that took power in 1997 was faced in 1998 with a key dilemma: to continue with this project or to halt it due to relatively high costs?!
It was Mandelson who persuaded the then Prime Minister Tony Blair that the Millennium Dome project was worthy because it was going to make Brittain the center of the world’s attention at the changing of the millennia.
Mr. Mandelson saw it as a chance to repeat history on what his grandfather, Herbert Morrison, had done successfully in 1951, the Festival of Britain. At that time, his grandfather also faced much skepticism (“Mandelson: Dome alone”, 2001, p. 2 of 2). As a minister of the British government, Mr. Mandelson held the shares that the government had in the New Millennium Experience Company, which is the company that is running the Dome.
But here many saw a conflict of interest. It was Mr. Mandelson who constantly had tried to drum up commercial sponsorship for the Dome meanwhile the department he was ahead of, had to rule on competition matters involving the potential sponsor companies. These companies were sponsors like British Airways or BSkyB.
Thus this was the first political “scandal” related to the project of the Millennium Dome. But Mr. Mandelson had it right to seek other companies for sponsorship. The “grand gala” opening night was near to a disaster with lots of transportation and technical problems. This event was generally accompanied by an adequate publicity campaign about its attractions, poor ticket sales, and inadequate sponsorship. These factors made that the Dome project turned to the National Lottery’s Millennium Commission and the government for cash. The Millennium Dome’s cost rose to be almost unbearable. As BBC News pointed out in March 2002:
“Latest figures estimate the cost of maintaining the empty construction in Greenwich, south London, was £287,000 in February.” (“Dome costs continue to spiral”, 2002, p. 1 of 2).
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But this was not the main problem. The core problem was that these costs had been rising constantly. In comparison to just one month before this estimate, the costs had risen by about 15%. Thus it was clear for the government that it was going to be a “heavyweight” for the governmental budget. They had to find other alternatives.
Yet another negative estimate showed that just for the year 2001, the year after the Millennium Dome was closed to the public, more than £28.4m was spent on the Dome’s maintenance. This money included £12.8m for continuing to run NMEC, £12.4m for decommissioning, and £3.2m for maintaining and servicing the Dome. The whole project that was thought at the beginning to have cost £758m, in December 2001 was raised to £789m (“Dome costs continue to spiral”, 2002, p. 1 of 2).
To this situation, we must add other aspects. For example, the National Audit Office presented its report in which it criticizes “weaknesses in financial management and control at the New Millennium Experience Company, which runs the dome”. And also adds that “visitor number targets were “ambitious and inherently risky” (Brown & Butler, 2002, p. 1).
These costs were becoming unbearable for the government and it rushed to offer the Dome to private companies. After the international tender was launched it was Dome Europe and Nomura International, which won the right to buy the Greenwich site for £106m and to begin redevelopment of the dome from 2001. These companies announced publicly plans of investment that were up to £800m. These plans were to create an:
“… urban entertainment resort”, combining enthralling interactive attractions, shows, cultural events, hotels and restaurants, and educational experiences” (Brown & Butler, 2002, p. 1).
But at the beginning of the next year, 2001, the company Nomura claimed that it has not signed the contract to buy the Dome.
They also announced that it is a necessity to study the dome’s new financial projections to assess if their ambitious plans remain viable and profitable. Thus again, the sustainability problem for the Millennium Dome project reappeared. In the coming year, the labor government put up a struggle to fund the dome and to find something, anything, to put in it (Leader, 2006, p. 1). Many ideas came around. One of them was to turn the Millennium Dome into a faith area where Christianity was to be the key player. This move was an attempt to attract the churches but it got the opposition of different other religious groups, like the Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, and Jews.
Anyway, these ministerial dealings with businessmen or churches have turned into a toxic essence that has been corroding the government’s credibility since the time.
But the quest came to an end when Meridian Delta Ltd. expressed its interest in the Millennium Dome project. The Dome was decided to be redeveloped as a 20,000 seat complex of both sports and entertainment.
The company, Meridian Delta Ltd has been appointed “exclusive partners” with government agency English Partnerships to regenerate the Greenwich peninsula (“New Life for Dome”, 2002, p. 1 of 2).
Meridian Delta will take ownership of the Millennium Dome on a 999-year lease deal. According to its investment plans, the total amount to be invested in the Millennium Dome and the surrounding area will reach a total of £200m. The company expects to open the Dome as a venue in mid-2004.
But here sustainability questions rose again as it was not clear whether Meridian Delta will have to pay to take over the Dome or not. But the government responded that the “contract with Meridian is intended to guarantee a minimum price for the land that English Partnerships puts into the joint venture and a substantial share of its profits” (“New Life for Dome”, 2002, p. 1 of 2).
But still, this raises question marks related to the cost and benefit ratio, without forgetting the risk factor for the future. From this deal, we can understand that the risk factor is very high since the government didn’t ask the company to pay initially for the acquiring of the Dome. The reason is that it didn’t want to raise the costs for the company and thus making the investment opportunity less attractive. This is supported also by the total investment plans that go up to only £200m compared with those of the previously discussed companies, Dome Europe and Nomura International, which were a total of up to £800m. and the fact is that even Meridian Delta afterward declared that this deal was not profitable for them and also withdraw from it.
Since its closure, this project has cost taxpayers £1.8m a month just to keep it empty.
It is a sad fact that deals with two of the government’s “preferred bidders” have already collapsed. an interesting fact to mention is that even Britain’s richest landowner, the Duke of Westminster, withdrew his bid to buy the Dome because of “the changing commercial and economic environment” (“New Life for Dome”, 2002, p. 2 of 2).
The Millennium Dome, now renamed O2 arena, has become an interesting issue. It is an issue regarding public goods by private financing and the efforts a government can do to show its citizens the grandiose country they live in. but as the anonymous writer, “leader”, of the Guardian newspaper points out:
“…such generalized and justified unease about the awkward interface between private profit and public good carries with it a responsibility to examine the facts. Not all between ministers and private business can be wrong: what matters is the terms on which it takes place.” (Leader, 2006, p. 2).
It is a classical case when a government tries to persuade its citizens that it is doing a “great job” in public affairs and that this project, this Dome, is there to demonstrate this. It will be interesting to read the opinions of a few British undergraduate students regarding the issue.
Below I am presenting a questionnaire that will evaluate the level of informing that students have regarding this issue and also collect some of their thoughts and opinions.
- “The World’s Biggest Dome”, 2009. The Millennium Dome. Millennium Dome Official Website.
- “The Millennium Dome”, 2009. London Online.
- “Dome woes haunt Blair“, 2001. BBC News. Web.
- “Mandelson: Dome alone.” 1998. BBC News. Web.
- Brown, D. Butler, P. The Millennium Dome. The Guardian. 2000. Web.
- Leader. John Prescott: A hollow man and an empty tent. The Guardian. 2006. Web.
- New life for the Dome. BBC News. 2001. Web.