MEDIA: Dome will take top billing in the great millennium show

One side-effect of Peter Mandelson’s fall from office is that responsibility for the Dome and millennium projects devolve to Chris Smith, the Culture, Media and Sports Secretary.

One side-effect of Peter Mandelson’s fall from office is that

responsibility for the Dome and millennium projects devolve to Chris

Smith, the Culture, Media and Sports Secretary.



Now I happen to watch his activities pretty closely, and rate him as one

of the quiet successes of the Government. But even as Smith hastened to

issue assurances that the Dome would be a big success, I was questioning

my knee-jerk hostility to the project - all part of an attempt at a new

year mental spring clean. There is something insidious about the way

years of largely negative press coverage on any touchy subject - from

the euro to the Millennium Experience - can build prejudices.



But I suspect the team who are marketing the Dome will find a swell of

popular enthusiasm at last building up as the year progresses, to the

point where tickets actually go on sale.



A few days ago I met up with the chairman of one of the biggest

companies backing the venture. His excitement was palpable. He was old

enough to have visited the Festival of Britain 50 years ago and

experienced the huge enthusiasm it created. The Dome will be exactly the

same, he said.



So what are the plus points? The first is that an insalubrious ’brown’

river site has been rescued for the entire UK by this strange

combination of public and private money and effort.



For this the honours must go to Michael Heseltine who as a long-standing

campaigner of inner city regeneration saw its potential, and also won

all-party backing. The current rash of stories about whether the Jubilee

Line extension will be ready in time also have an honourable place in

tradition, and should be viewed in context.



All major civil engineering works of this kind overrun, ratchet up

costs, and get held to ransom by key workers. The Thames Barrier was

years late.



But enough of the new tube - the section between Waterloo and the Dome -

is expected to be running by 31 December to render items such as a

recent despairing Radio 4 news feature on trying to drive there through

congested south-east London, pointless scaremongering.



The further long-term plus is that the UK is pitifully short of huge

covered places, where family groups can spend a day out regardless of

the weather. You only have to visit the Natural History Museum or a big

shopping mall on a Sunday afternoon to see how people love to get

out.



Also visitors gain more than an educational shuffle through delights

such as a giant human body and regular shows are planned. EuroDisney

suffers precisely because it is so exposed.



Chris Smith has inherited a sound, bold project, far easier to sell to

the public than we’ve been led to believe. I’m raring to go.



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