Like it or not, the Millennium Dome at North Greenwich will forever go down in English folklore as a political and financial disaster.
For some years, cynics have proposed that the great white tent should simply be razed to the ground. More visionary businessmen recognise that its iconic status ? not bad for a building that has only been up eight years ? means that something could, and should, be done on this site, allowing the Millennium Dome to flourish as part of the overall regeneration of this part of south east London.
One such visionary is Philip Anschutz, one of the world’s wealthiest men who is the majority stakeholder in global leisure consortium, AEG. His plan is to turn the Millennium Dome site into an enormous leisure, hotel and residential area ? regenerating a former industrial area which has lain fallow and neglected for several decades. His far reaching vision to transform this area coincided with the government’s plans to set up a supercasino under its Gambling Act. This legislation enables one supercasino to be set up in the UK, and understandably there has been ferocious competition with several high quality contenders across the country. I must confess that I have not had the chance to see them all at first hand, but it is clear that the AEG proposals for rejuvenation in and around Greenwich will prove difficult to surpass.
However as ever politics has a part to play. Mr Anschutz’s links with the outgoing Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, have tarnished his chances of winning the supercasino contract. Either way, Greenwich will lose ? if it wins the bid the project will be mired in a massive political controversy, with Opposition parties accusing the government of undue influence and bias in making their decision. If it is decided that Mr Anschutz’s bid is ‘too hot to handle’ then Greenwich’s worthy casino proposal will be rejected and the North Greenwich area will be deprived of a much-needed economic boost. Given the amount of regeneration that is due to take place across the river in the Lower Lea Valley site as part of the 2012 Olympic project, the Millennium Dome will almost certainly then become a long term white elephant, and this part of London will continue to struggle in the decades ahead.