The Millennium Dome could have been dismantled and moved from the Greenwich Peninsula to Swindon under a plan considered two decades ago, newly-released documents reveal.
Erected in the late 1990s on the old East Greenwich gas works to mark the year 2000, the Dome had been lambasted as a white elephant after visitor numbers failed to reach the huge numbers predicted by Tony Blair’s government.
The Dome is now the hugely successful O2 and lies at the centre of the peninsula’s regeneration – just as ministers intended back then. But after the original millennium exhibition closed its doors there was no clear plan for its future and Blair faced a headache over what to do with the site.
In 2001 the film producer Lord Putnam, then a trustee of the Science Museum, lobbied Downing Street to move the structure to a disused RAF base at Wroughton, south of Swindon, documents released by the National Archives reveal.
Once moved to Wiltshire, the Dome could have hosted a space exhibition, a hotel and a village for the over-50s, The Times reports.
In a fax sent to Downing Street, Lindsay Sharp, a director of the museum, which owned the old airbase, said the proposal was “a completely different and exciting possibility for the Dome” that “appears, at first sight, to possess no inherently fatal flaws”.
However, Lord Falconer, the minister in charge of the Dome, was unimpressed, and invited the Science Museum to come up with proposals for the Greenwich site instead. He also considered inviting the BBC to move into the Dome.
Eventually, the government gave the Dome away to a consortium led by the American entertainment giant AEG, in return for a 15 per cent share of the venture’s net profits for 25 years. The naming rights were sold to O2 in a deal that now lasts until 2027.
As well as the 30,000-capacity arena, it has a 4,000-capacity club venue, a multiplex cinema, a host of bars and restaurants, an outlet shopping centre and the Up at the O2 sky walk across the roof of the structure. The site also contains towers containing a luxury hotel and riverside apartments. A £3 million Wetherspoon pub, the Stargazer, will open in February.
A 36-storey tower containing 820 student flats is also planned for part of the site next to North Greenwich station, with a planning application expected soon.
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