Skip to main content

Millennium Dome

Volume 694: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What lessons they have learnt from their management of the Millennium Dome.

My Lords, it is a matter of record that this large public project was completed on time, that the final cost was just 4 per cent over budget and that it was by far the most visited paying attraction in the UK with more than 80 per cent visitor satisfaction. It also helped to regenerate a wide area. However, the main lesson from the project concerns the importance of ensuring that forecasts of income from visitors and sponsors are realistic.

My Lords, bearing in mind the reported overspend of £23 billion in the past 10 years on just a handful of projects, including the huge amounts that were wasted on failed IT projects and the recent chaos in the allocation of places for doctors, will the Government, who have been described as not being able to manage huge projects, in future consult those with a proven commercial track record instead of wasting so much on consultants?

My Lords, we had a debate about IT projects in which I was able to identify the many successes that the Government recorded as well as some weaknesses. The only common factors between those and the Millennium Dome are that they are large and public. The Dome was a unique development. We all know that there were lessons to be learnt from it. As I have indicated, not only have we learnt the lessons, but we intend to implement them with regard to the Olympic development.

My Lords, for how long was the Dome mothballed before its recent purchase and what was the total cost of mothballing it?

My Lords, the cost was significant and the number of years was several. However, the noble Lord will recognise that the Dome has been sold and is now flourishing as an entertainment centre. Greenwich is benefiting enormously from the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula. We have learnt lessons from the Dome and are implementing them.

My Lords, while we are learning lessons from history and from the mismanagement of public projects, I exhort the Minister to have a look at what has happened with Battersea power station, which has recently been sold for £400 million. Acres of prime land in central London have remained unused for nearly 20 years when we have a grave shortage of housing, particularly for public service workers. Will my noble friend have a look at the history of that to see what happened with the management and who was responsible?

My Lords, I must confess that I concentrated on the Millennium Dome as it was the subject of the Question. However, my noble friend is being inordinately helpful in drawing my attention to another site where we may learn lessons. I have no doubt that for all noble Lords the main project that we have in hand at present with regard to site development is the Olympic site and we are getting plaudits from the Olympic authorities for the way in which we are structuring our development of that site.

My Lords, do the Government recognise that the three things that will be remembered about the Millennium Dome are that it was built on time, looked wonderful and was filled with what was generally regarded as being fairly tacky? Will the Government give an assurance that all future projects—for instance, the Olympic project—will have somebody looking at how to run them? Furthermore, if you are going to have a big celebration, admit you are having a celebration, and do not try to get in some private money for some form of publicity dressing.

My Lords, I am grateful that it was the Liberal Democrats’ turn because I can give the noble Lord that assurance. There will not be a need for any specific celebration with regard to the development of the Olympic Games site; the opening ceremony will provide that.

My Lords, the Minister may not be aware that I agree with every single word that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, said about Battersea power station. “Hear, hear” to him. With hindsight, and with the figures the Minister gave, would it not have been more economic and done more for the good of England to have kept the royal yacht or built a successor?

My Lords, I am not sure that the royal yacht had quite the seating capacity of the Millennium Dome. I recognise that comparisons are always made on public expenditure with regard to which from time to time the Government may be thought to have made a mistake. I merely identify to the House the obvious fact that the concept of the Millennium Dome was established under the previous Administration.

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that one of the lessons to be learnt from the management of the Millennium Dome is that should the circumstances ever arise again that we have a Conservative Government starting a project, when we knock them out of office we should never inherit it from them?

My Lords, my noble friend may be rubbing salt into wounds as far as that is concerned. The incoming Labour Administration in 1997 inherited a project which was substantially under way. In retrospect, we all regret the huge losses made on the Dome, but we should recognise that the location of the Dome was an intelligent choice of site for the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula, and future generations will at least benefit from the sacrifices that we made in terms of public expenditure at that time.

My Lords, in fact when the new Labour Government came in they asked for, and were given, three months to decide whether to take on the Dome. Had they refused at that time, which in hindsight might have been the wise decision, the total cost of breaking the contracts would have been £50 million.

My Lords, I am grateful for that fact. The noble Lord will also be aware that there were one or two voices from the previous Conservative Administration who were really rather keen that we should continue the project.

My Lords, is my noble friend worried about this latest outbreak of repetitive dome syndrome? Since the Dome is now a very successful entertainment venue, will the Government try to find a cure for this debilitating illness?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the best cure is the increasing confidence that we will manage a project vastly greater than the Dome; we are going to manage with great success the development of the Olympic Games.