HC Deb 06 November 2000 vol 356 cc8-10
5. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

What discussions he has had with local authorities in east London and the Greater London Authority about the future of the millennium dome. [135340]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Janet Anderson)

The matter is, of course, one for the competition team. Throughout the competition process, the competition team has involved and informed east London and Thames gateway organisations, including local authorities and community groups. Frequent consultation with the London borough of Greenwich has featured throughout the competition process. Following the withdrawal of Dome Europe from the competition process on 11 September, my noble and learned Friend Lord Falconer, sole shareholder of the New Millennium Experience Company, has met representatives of the London borough of Greenwich. The Greater London Authority and the London borough of Greenwich will be fully involved in any future planning application for the dome's future use.

Mr. Wilkinson

I am grateful for that reply. Will the hon. Lady provide an assurance that, if the dome has to have recourse to yet more public money, not only will there be full consultation with the borough of Greenwich and the Greater London Authority, but Parliament will be fully informed in advance? Will she give a further assurance that, if a wind-up takes place and more public money is needed, she will come to the House and make clear how much is required? Furthermore, will her noble and learned Friend Lord Falconer do the honourable thing and resign?

Janet Anderson

Before he made his final, cheap, point, which I shall treat in the manner it deserves, I was beginning to think that the hon. Gentleman was approaching the subject in the spirit we expect of all parties. I assure him that we shall continue to keep the House fully informed. The New Millennium Experience Company is satisfied that it has sufficient funding to carry through trading until the end of the year. He will know that we are engaged in discussions with Legacy plc about the future of the dome. I am sure that he does not expect me to predict the outcome of those negotiations; however, I can say that we hope to be able to make an announcement very soon.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservatives' constant attempts to make political capital out of the dome ring hollow, given their part in setting it up? Does my hon. Friend also agree that although all alternatives for the future of the dome must be considered, it is essential that the dome remain in existence? We must find an alternative that will ensure that. Does she agree that it has already become almost an icon building, and one that should be maintained?

Janet Anderson

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. I remind the House that the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) who, sadly, is not in his place today, said: Our task is to maximise the national gain and recognise that this is a non-party-controversial issue; it is an all-party endeavour.—[Official Report, 28 January 1998; Vol. 305, c. 271.] I only wish that Opposition Members would take the same view.

My hon. Friend is right. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's official spokesman confirmed today that, in his view, the dome is an important part of the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula. [Interruption.] If Opposition Members will listen for a moment, they may learn something about the regenerative effect of the dome. The Government are the first to acknowledge that the dome has not been the success for which everyone hoped, although it has had more than 5 million visitors. We should not overlook what has been achieved. The dome is a vital contributor to the development of the Greenwich peninsula, and has already brought considerable regenerative benefits to Greenwich and the wider Thames gateway.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) asked earlier whether local authorities had been consulted. Greenwich council predicts that 30,000 permanent jobs will be created in the borough of Greenwich within seven years as a result of the investment in the peninsula. Perhaps Opposition Members would rather those jobs had not been created. I am sure that the electors of Greenwich will be listening carefully to them today.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton)

For once, I shall give the Minister some all-party support. There is no doubt that the original motivation for the dome was the regeneration of that part of the Thames, and I hope that she will continue it. I am glad that Nomura has backed out of its bid, so there are no more beer-swilling concepts of leisure developments there. Will the hon. Lady please make sure that the Legacy bid is taken seriously? It is an opportunity to build a science park there and to help smaller companies. I hope that the negotiations are progressing as well as she suggested, so that an early conclusion can be reached.

Janet Anderson

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. Although I cannot predict the outcome, the Legacy bid is interesting and exciting. The hon. Gentleman is right that we need an early conclusion. I can confirm that we have been having discussions with Legacy plc, the remaining bidder from the final shortlist of two, and the competition team is currently analysing the proposal from Legacy. I cannot predict what the outcome will be, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we want an early solution and we will make an announcement shortly.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Will my hon. Friend congratulate the national botanic garden of Wales, which is also backed by the Millennium Commission, and has just exceeded all expectations by—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady might try to pick another question, as that does not relate to the one before us.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey)

Will the Minister now treat the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Wilkinson) in the manner that it deserves, and answer it? Does she think that Lord Falconer should resign?

Janet Anderson

Lord Falconer is doing an extremely good job. The short answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is no.

Mr. Ainsworth

We will see whether that opinion still holds on Thursday, when the National Audit Office report is published. On regeneration in east London, will the Minister confirm reports that the chairman of the New Millennium Experience Company has told Ministers that the site could be worth at least £300 million more if the dome were taken down?

The Secretary of State is the chairman of the Millennium Commission. He may be sitting there pretending that it is nothing to do with him, but surely he has a duty to salvage whatever is possible from this disastrous year? With growing doubts about the viability of the deal with Legacy, would it not be better—would it not, in the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), "maximise the national gain"—to invite bids for the site with or without the dome—or is £300 million a price worth paying for the sake of new Labour's vanity?

Janet Anderson

I can only say that I am not aware of any such advice from the chairman of the New Millennium Experience Company. I repeat to the hon. Member that we, in common with local authorities in the Greenwich area, consider the building very much part of the area's regeneration. That should be taken into account.