HL Deb 14 November 2001 vol 628 cc566-8

3.3 p.m.

Earl Attlee

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the event that demolition of the Millennium Dome represents best value to the taxpayer, they will consider such a course of action.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, value for money is one of the criteria for evaluating proposals for the future of the Dome, together with the requirement for any future use to provide a worthwhile and sustainable future, and for us to be assured that any proposal can be successfully delivered. Proposals will be assessed against these criteria and will take account of the value of the site without the Dome.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. We know that there are two values for the site—one with the Dome and one without the Dome. Will the Minister come clean and say what is the difference between the two values, to the nearest £30 million, and will he say which value will appear in the accounts of English Partnerships?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I will not say what is the difference in value. Assessments have been carried out for the purpose of informing the ongoing process of market testing. The reason I will not say is that discussions are going on with a small number of serious bidders at the moment and it would be prejudicial to those negotiations to give those figures. When they are prepared, the English Partnership accounts will, in accordance with good accountancy practice, take into account all information in valuing the Dome.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, has anything come of the idea mooted in the press the other day that the Government should consider offering the Millennium Dome, free of charge, to New York City, where it might stand, for a few years at least, on the ground space previously occupied by the twin towers while plans are made to redevelop the World Trade Centre? Is that not an idea worth investigating? Would it not permit the Dome to exit this country with some glory?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, Mr David James, the chairman of NMEC, said that the idea had no prospect whatever of deliverability. Having said that, the ideas that went into the making of the Dome could well be of assistance to the people of New York in covering ground zero. We have made clear that we will provide any assistance they may require in that respect.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the people of Greenwich would be very angry indeed at an attempt to knock down their Dome? Recently, a 14-screen cinema has been opened on what was derelict land in the area. Without the Dome, that land would not have been regenerated. The development has provided another 80 jobs for people in the area.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am aware of the feelings of people in the area that the Dome should stay. I am also aware of the effect of decontaminating the north Greenwich peninsula. It has made it possible for housing, health centres, schools and cinemas to be built, whereas before there was no hope of such development. I am also aware of the development and prospects for jobs that it has brought.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, does the Minister agree—it is an open secret—that the site is worth at— least £300 million more without the Dome than with it? As London is very short of affordable housing, has the noble and learned Lord estimated how many families could be housed on the site if the Dome were to be demolished?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, so far as concerns the "open secret" and £300 million more for the site on which the Dome sits, I do not know from where the noble Viscount is getting his information but I can tell him that it is not accurate. So far as concerns the whole north Greenwich peninsula—not only the site of the Dome but also the area to the south of it—yes, there are very real prospects of housing being built there. Some housing has already been built in the Millennium Village, which is situated to the south of the Dome. The noble Viscount will agree that we want mixed communities; we want houses and other facilities which bring jobs.

Baroness Noakes

My Lords, throughout the whole of the year the noble and learned Lord has told your Lordships on many occasions that market testing is going on. Can he tell the House when market testing is due to be completed and when we will have a proper competition for the Dome? Will he confirm that options including and excluding the Dome structure will be a part of that competition?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, as the noble Baroness rightly pointed out, I have described the process on a number of occasions. It involves market testing and, currently, it involves discussions with a small number of bidders. The right course is for those discussions to carry on. It would be wrong for me to specify a particular timetable. It would be wrong for me to say anything else at the moment because it might prejudice those discussions.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, market testing goes on, when there is no real intention of selling anything, just to get a realistic valuation. Is there a real intention to sell the Dome or the site?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, yes.

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