HC Deb 10 November 1997 vol 300 cc570-2
27. Dr. Starkey

What plans he has to secure the provision of an adequate transport infrastructure for the millennium experience. [13454]

The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Peter Mandelson)

In addition to the road improvements under way, there will be an excellent public transport network offering visitors a variety of ways to travel to the millennium experience, including new river boat services and the new Jubilee line extension. These developments will be an important legacy for our investment and I am sure that they will be welcomed by the whole House.

Dr. Starkey

I thank the Minister for his reply. He may be aware from reports in today's press that public interest in the millennium exhibition is extremely high and that there are concerns that there may be some problems with congestion. What steps is he taking to ensure that visitors to the exhibition spend the maximum amount of time enjoying themselves at the exhibits and the minimum amount in queues to get in?

Mr. Mandelson

Our single most important objective is to ensure that when people come to Greenwich—we are expecting 12 million visitors in 2000—they have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, full of excitement and enjoyment, without delay or frustration in travelling to and moving around the millennium dome. That is why the New Millennium Experience Company has developed an operational plan that, through pre-booking of tickets, will guarantee access to attractions in the dome, ensure minimal queuing for the attractions and—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Stop it.

Mr. Mandelson

It will leave ample capacity in terms of the transport infrastructure that I have described.

Mr. Robathan

I am sure that the House will join me in welcoming the Minister to the Front Bench. How delighted we are that he has come to answer questions, albeit for only five minutes. He may not be aware that I was given this question by his parliamentary private secretary; sadly, I got no supplementary.

What definite proposals are there for improving river transport? That is a serious matter for the whole of London in the future, and not just the millennium. What definite proposals are there for money from the public side and also private money to be put into transport down to Greenwich?

Mr. Mandelson

We expect 1 million people to travel by boat from central London using new pier and river services and park-and-sail sites to the east of the site. Decisions on temporary park-and-sail facilities are expected in December. Five applications with Greenwich, Barking and the London Docklands development corporation have already been lodged. I am very pleased to say that the New Millennium Experience Company and the Cross-River Partnership, working closely together, are making sure that we bring about this increased use of the Thames as part of the Deputy Prime Minister's Thames 2000 initiative.

Mr. Simon Hughes

May I add to the pressure on the Minister to ensure that river transport not only is provided for the millennium but becomes part of the infrastructure of London transport for visitors, commuters and residents alike, integrated with the other public transport systems and at a price that ordinary people can afford?

Mr. Mandelson

That is exactly what the Deputy Prime Minister has in mind. I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend is making considerable progress in developing river services and the new millennium pier at the Greenwich peninsula, as well as investing in other piers along the Thames back from the Greenwich peninsula. I stress that they will be a permanent, important legacy for the Thames for the entirety of London. That will not be the only important legacy, but it will be a very significant one flowing from our investment in the millennium experience.

Mr. Maude

It is usual to welcome a Minister on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. It is unusual to have to wait six months to do it. At the rate of answering one question every six months, we can be sure that the Minister will not outstay his welcome.

Given that the most popular visitor attraction in London attracts no more than 2.5 million visitors a year, does the Minister have any basis for believing that 12 million visitors will be drawn to the millennium dome, other than the assertion in a letter from Jennifer Page, which mysteriously makes an appearance in the Financial Times today?

Mr. Mandelson

The right hon. Gentleman is not correct. The British museum attracts 6 million visitors every year. The estimate of 12 million visits to the millennium experience is based on industry projections and poll findings. An NOP poll a year ago, when the future of the project was highly uncertain, showed that a third of the population were interested in visiting. A Gallup poll for The Daily Telegraph in August predicted more than 10 million United Kingdom visitors. That is, of course, together with travel industry projections that put the expected number of overseas visitors at almost 2.5 million. I do not believe that there will be any shortage of visitors to the millennium experience—something which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming strongly.