This ‘site’, and associated sub-links, describe something of the history leading up to the construction of London’s iconic Dome (now branded The O2 Arena) as the host building of the Millennium Experience (MEX). They were previously located at the site ‘mm.gold.ac.uk’, kindly supported by Goldsmiths University of London while I worked there until my retirement in 2012. Owing to some infrastructure changes there it became less and less functional until, by early 2016, only the ‘Home’ page worked properly. Since the site contains some potentially interesting historical information (for some!), I have taken the opportunity to revise it chronologically, but have not changed the tense in which it was originally written. The internal links have now all (12/17) been corrected and the additional linked pages added back to this new WordPress version.
If you have any questions about the content, please contact the author.
The Millennium Exhibition – January 1st -December 31st 2000
A Millennium Haiku
The century ends
Now behold the diadome
Of this sceptered isle!
Copyright: Annette Riddle, 1998
The Government’s efficiency adviser Sir Peter Levene was initially commissioned to examine the commercial viability of the Millennium Exhibition Project, and reported his findings to the Millennium Commission – the body initially set up by the previous Conservative Government to plan the celebrations for the new Millennium.
Meanwhile, Imagination were developing more details to their plans for the exhibition site, as well as starting to plan a series of 50 regional celebrations. Greenwich Council was investigating in more detail how to attract the maximum benefit for local people, in the lead up to, during and after the Exhibition. This included the establishment of a local labour scheme to be known as Greenwich Local Labour in Construction (GLLiC – later to metamorphose in to the still-functional Greenwich Local Labour and Business (GLLaB). Careful planning will be needed to ensure that the development itself, and the influx of extra visitors, are properly managed to minimise disruption to the lives of local people and to avoid any negative impact on the local environment.
A major public consultation exercise was held at the end of October 1996. It included mail-shots to around 7000 local residents, distribution of 120,000 leaflets and a mobile ‘roadshow’ that visited all parts of the Borough with outline plans for the site. The first stage of the planning application was discussed by Greenwich Council at a Special Planning & Development Committee Meeting at Woolwich Town Hall on January 28th 1997. Various public and privately arranged meetings also took place relating to the Exhibition plans.
Many other local and full Greenwich Council Planning & Development Committee Meetings of the Council have been held over the period leading up to the Exhibition. These included local ‘forums’ to discuss the impact and implementation of the Greenwich Millennium Controlled Parking Zone (GMCPZ) and a range of traffic-calming options being developed by Greenwich Council consultants, Halcrow-Fox. These pages (now redacted) cover key issues raised at these meetings (which were open to the public) as well as other plans and developments.
An ‘absolute and final decision’ was originally taken on January 18th 1997 to host the UK’s National Millennium Exhibition at Greenwich. The long-running fiasco of ‘will it, won’t it’ was supposedly finally concluded with an agreement by all political parties to let the Exhibition go ahead as planned, but with some new cost controls and assurances. A review of the final ‘business plan’ was then expected in June 1997.
However, according to The Independent on Sunday of June 15th 1997, this farce-to-end-all-farces was set to have its ‘plug’ pulled right at the last possible moment by the then new Labour Government, despite the fact that all the preliminary site remediation and clearance work has been completed and a number of the main contracts have been signed and sealed. Another, final, decision was absolutely essential before June 23rd 1997, the date piling work for the Dome was due to begin. Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, and others in the Cabinet apparently considered the Exhibition to be a huge waste of public money and were said to favour refusing the £230 million funding required to ensure the Exhibition could be built. As stated above, a decision eventually came and was, instead, in favour of going ahead.
Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, finally announced on June 19th 1997 that the Millennium Exhibition (now the Millennium Experience) at Greenwich would go ahead, but with a major revamp of content, management and with strict spending controls. The Dome itself, originally conceived as a temporary structure, will now become a permanent landmark with a more robust construction. This decision followed a period of intense speculation about the future of the whole Project (see below).
The Planning Application
Despite there being no final decision from Government, Greenwich Council, at a Special Planning & Development Committee Meeting of 28/1/97 approved the initial planning application by Millennium Central for the Millennium Exhibition.
The Greenwich Peninsula had been chosen from a number of possible UK locations to host Britain’s Millennium Exhibition in the year 2000, but there were continual questions over its funding and whether it would actually happen despite all the initial assurances. It will now definitely go ahead, despite worries over total sponsorship money and its final cost.
The Exhibition will be the largest of its kind ever held in the UK and is expected to require a total investment of between £800 million and £1 billion. The current budget is £750 million, £250 million of which will come from National Lottery funds and the rest from private sponsorship. The celebrations will transform the Peninsula, dominated by a derelict 130-acre site owned by British Gas, once the home of one of the South Metropolitan Gas Works, said to have been the largest gas works in Europe, and previous to that the birthplace of a number of important industries. It will act as an enormous spur to the regeneration of both Greenwich and the surrounding boroughs, in an area recently designated as the Thames Gateway.
The Imagination Group Ltd was originally selected to design and develop the contents of the Dome, but their involvement became less and less significant and more recent developments have resulted in the award of separate contracts for specific ‘zones’. The Exhibition was originally planned to be based on the theme of Time – drawing on the historic associations of the Prime Meridian from which the world measures Greenwich Mean Time. Imagination’s initial plans included 12 ‘Pavilions’, each focusing on a different aspect of Time, and arranged to form a giant Circle of Time. However, as Guy Stevenson, Imagination’s special projects manager originally pointed out, “the Time ‘theme’ would not be chronological time as we know it, but different versions of time, such as action time, leisure time and fun time”. A changing program of educational and entertainment activities will run throughout the year, and the exhibition is expected to attract up to 12.5 million visitors to Greenwich.
The London Borough of Greenwich will have its own Pavilion outside the Dome itself which will house a restaurant and Exhibition Centre to the west of the Dome itself close to a new section of the Thames Path that will follow the tip of the Peninsula, and this will remain as a ‘legacy’ feature and be open to the public after the MEX closes on December 31st 2000.
On October 31st 1996, provisional plans were released by Barry Hartop, the Government official in charge of co-ordinating the Project. The Richard Rogers Partnership, architects, have designed the world’s largest domed building. The size of two Wembley Stadiums or 13 Albert Halls and taller than Nelson’s Column, the Millennium Dome will be larger than Houston’s Astrodome. Originally designed to be removed after the year-long MEX (reprieved with the use of steel designed for a life of 60 years) the 102,300 square metres of space is to be roofed with a renewable fabric covering of the latest materials suspended by cabling from 12 masts each 100 metres high. Now it will definitely remain as a ‘legacy’ building and it was initially suggested that it could become the world’s largest indoor sporting centre.
Currently not available
The Millennium Dome Original Design
Image Copyright Hayes-Davidson
Erection of the first of the twelve 100 metre masts for the Dome occurred at 10.30am on Monday, October 13th 1997. By Saturday morning (18th) four masts were in place, by the 25th, nine, and by 30th all twelve, despite a day’s hold up as a result of protest action. This was considerably ahead of the ‘one mast in two days’ schedule originally set.
All twelve Dome-support masts were raised in less than three weeks!
Regardless of the background to this Project, the reality was surely going to turn out to be something approaching another ‘Wonder of the World’. Simply on the basis of what became obvious within one week, this construction effort looks set to be the ‘legacy’ so many people want from this event. Go and see for yourself…. on a beautiful day/evening, it is awe-inspiring!
At the close of 1997, the New Millennium Experience Visitor Centre opened its doors in the old Squash Courts at the Royal Naval College in the centre of Greenwich (access originally from Cutty Sark Gardens. Exhibits included explanatory panels, a video describing the construction of the Dome, models of the Dome and touch-terminals linked to the official MEX web site.
(N.B. This has now been replaced by a much-improved Greenwich Tourist Information Centre – with better access from the Thames Path).
On February 24th, 1998 Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, had finally announced what would actually be inside the Dome. After two days of wide speculation in the press and on TV (BBC’s Panorama), in which little on offer was anything but headline reporting of year-old information (a possible future for the Dome as a World Cup-attracting New Wembley, the entertainment Baby Dome that was never a ‘Dome’ at all, etc.), there was at least something new to hear about.
Scale models and details of most of the twelve pavilions were revealed. These included The Body Zone, Dreamscape, Licensed to Skill and The Learning Curve, Living Island, Serious Play, and Spirit Level.
At the same time it was announced that £75 million of a required £150 million had been committed by a larger group of commercial sponsors. In addition to renewed commitment from British Airways, British Telecom and the British Airports Authority, major new sponsors included BSkyB, Manpower and Tesco.
According to a newspaper report, subsequently hotly denied by all parties, British Telecom, one of the few companies at that time planning a significant investment in the New Millennium Experience, had threatened to pull its £12 million commitment to the Project, owing to dissatisfaction with the team planning the ‘content’.
In mid-October 1998 a new, dynamic Web site was launched which allowed the user to investigate the current state of the Dome in virtual reality.
A proposed cross-Thames cable-car link received planning permission from both Greenwich and Tower Hamlets Borough Councils in early 1998. However, reports on October 20th 1998 indicated that the private funding required for the Project had fallen through. The company behind the link may lose as much as £0.5 million. With the latest concerns about whether the Jubilee Line will be ready on time, the Project may yet be revived as a contingency measure, but time is running very short.
A June 1998 report even claimed another cable-car was planned from Greenwich Town Centre to the MEX site, but this seems highly unlikely to be granted planning permission given its passage across the river frontage of the Royal Naval College.
The Dome was finally ‘topped-out’ on June 22nd 1998 by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
The best views of work in progress are from the Canary Wharf Tower, the Docklands Light Railway (East India Dock Station), the Blue Bridge on the Isle of Dogs (and local pub!) and, from the road system, the River Lea Crossing. Getting close on the Greenwich side remains problematic, and there is no viewing point with enough height apart from right back at Humber Road to the south of Trafalgar Road, or from the high points in Greenwich Park (such as in front of General Wolfe’s statue next to the Royal Observatory).
The main external structure of the Dome is complete. The area around the Blackwall Tunnel Ventilation Shaft is separated from the main part of the Dome with full-height vertical panelling. Although slightly incongruous, it is reported that inside the Dome, the shaft actually provides a very useful reference point in the enormity of the overall space. 12 pods .(see below) containing water tanks and generators are located around the periphery. Power feeds have been supplied to the site from both the south and the north of the River (via a new, and little-known tunnel that was specially constructed).
The Dome covering was almost complete by the beginning of March 1998
Internal works are well under way. Construction of approach roads to the Dome and to the newly opened North Greenwich Station have now made the whole immediate area almost unrecognizable even to local residents.
Work on the new Riverside Walk and gardens are now also well underway. The Walk will include an area where private individuals (not companies) can have their names inscribed in stone, a scheme that was used at the last Olympic Games.
The final main section of the new Millennium Pier has been transported by river from Rochester in Kent by crane-barge to its final location. Made from a new material created from recycled plastic bottles, this structure will provide the hinged covered bridge walkway from the landing stages to the shore.
Zone and sponsor details were announced in November 1998. More details of the zones have been emerging week by week as things start to take shape.
Construction of the ‘Baby Dome’, now known as Skyscape is complete. The structure, which is not a Dome at all, but a rather incongruous oblong structure with sail-like roof panels is located to the south-east of the main dome and will house two 2,500-seat cinemas, one of which will also be capable of conversion to a 3,250-seat performance arena for concerts during the Millennium year. The cinemas will also be used to provide visiting school groups with a preliminary briefing on the exhibitions in the dome itself as well as offering a new Blackadder production featuring Rowan Atkinson and the usual team.
On the afternoon of 29/5/99 the Dome was struck by lightning.. and the whole thing was caught on webcam (unfortunately no longer on-line!).
A ‘special zone’ is being established around the Dome in which it will be illegal to advertise without special permission, as well as to even enter by car without a permit. This will make it impossible for anyone to drop off or pick up visitors to the Exhibition or to the North Greenwich Jubilee Line station until after 9.30pm.
For historical purposes.. a reminder of the announced ticket prices for the MEX.
It was reported in mid-1999 by the ‘big-wigs’ that the Dome was ‘on-time and on-budget’. On the ground, the security guards reported things going well and even if others have yet to be impressed, even though they work there all the time, they were so enthusiastic about the project that it comes as something of a surprise if you still think the whole thing is a farce.
A major Conference on The Development of the Dome and the Greenwich Peninsula was held on Monday, October 25th 1999. The conference took place at the Dome Preview Centre inside the Millennium Dome and was the last event of its kind before the Dome opened to the public on January 1, 2000. Speakers included Lord Falconer, Government Minister responsible for the Millennium Experience, Jennie Page, at that time Chief Executive of NMEC, and Ralph Luck, Development Director for English Partnerships.
The 300 acre site is now totally unrecognisable from the derelict site which existed only two years previously. The development of the Millennium Experience and the remainder of the Greenwich Peninsula is well on its way to totally transforming the area for the next Millennium. The conference served to describe the work that has, and is, being carried out and to look at the effect this is having on both the local and the wider area. NMEC, English Partnerships and Greenwich Council have jointly commissioned an economic impact study that will examine the benefits of the developments on the site. Some of the early findings of this study were presented at this Conference. Details…
There were varying reports regarding ticket sales before it even opened. NMEC reported that sales were on target and that over 1 million had been sold by early November. However, local newspapers reported no interest from Greenwich or Lewisham residents. This is hardly surprising since Greenwich residents will receive ‘free’ passes on presentation of a Greenwich Card. These could be obtained from Greenwich Council, although they actually aren’t totally free. Each card costs £2.00.
A ‘Dome preview’ session for 14,000 on 19th December and another on December 22nd 1999 were arranged for specially selected guests. Although only catering for around half the planned maximum daily numbers, there was no sign of additional traffic in the surrounding residential areas, hopefully a good omen for the efficacy of Greenwich Council’s Controlled Parking Zone plans. Review (favourable!).
Not all the zones were complete for these previews, with reports indicating that work would have to continue over the entire Christmas holiday period on at least two of the 14 zones. Sequential lighting effects on the roof of the Dome are now complete and provide an impressive spectacle from the high ground of Blackheath and from many other vantage points.
An elaborate ‘sculpture’, , 29 metres high and 10 metres across, made out of square steel tubes has been erected on one of the original ‘Doric’ support columns of the Gas Works jetty.
This has been designed by Richard Gormley, the much-acclaimed creator of ‘The Angel of the North’ overlooking the A1 near Scunthorpe. Five additional sculptures can be found at various locations both outside the Dome along the riverside as well as (during the MEX itself) in it.
Millennium Transit vehicles were in use before the official opening of the Dome, but not on the ‘Guideway’! In quite what way they are ‘guided’ is obscure to say the least. Additionally, the first one observed managed to break down after only half a mile of so of its journey from the Dome to Charlton Station on the afternoon of 29/12/99. Ultimately they were never actually in public use in ‘guided’ form.
The nearby Riverside Walkways and Cycle Paths are now fully open to the public. The Pilot Inn and Ceylon Cottages have a new car park and are now the only original buildings remaining on the Peninsula to the east of Bugsby’s Way and Millennium Way, the old electricity sub-station/Thames Barrier radar building, Riverside Industrial Estate and Greenwich Yacht Club premises all having been flattened. The new Yacht Club premises on the Peartree Wharf site are also now fully occupied.
Everything was eventually completed on time for the ‘big bash’ on New Year’s Eve.. the Queen attended, and the first paying customers pronounced that it was.. “a wow!”. However, the press criticism rumbled on. Best to ignore it! Fact was always better than fiction in this particular case!
Here is a timetable of events at that infamous Millennium Eve event at the Dome.
Once the school holiday period had ended, numbers struggled and the Press criticism continued. Mainly as a consequence of this, the Dome Manager, Jennie Page departed, and Mr ‘Disney’ (or is he?!), Monsieur Yves Gerbeau (PY), was appointed to take her place. With up to 20,000 visitors a day hoped for before April, any major change to the fourteen ‘zones’ was going to be out of the question, let alone the fact there was no money to pay for it. Quite what the reshuffle was going to achieve was anyone’s guess, but certainly a little more flexibility in ticketing arrangements and better publicity would not have gone amiss.
The Dome management announced in late May that late night openings (to 11.00pm) on Fridays and Saturdays would cease and that they would instead operate a 11 hour day (9am – 8pm) every day of the week from June 1st 2000. In addition, a 3 hour evening session will be available at £10. There would be a 20% discount for all ‘second’ visits as well as a limited offer of a free copy of Microsoft’s ‘Encarta’ CD-ROM for all purchasers of Family Tickets “while stocks last”. This offer was further extended on 11/7/2000.
Following the original ‘no car-parking’ plan for the MEX, a small concession was made in order to boost visitor numbers through the use of 1000 car parking spaces at the Dome,. This was originally made available for the summer period, but was later extended until the end of the year. They were only available for vistors who pre-booked them. Parts of the Staff car park adjacent to North Greenwich Station, immediately adjacent to the Dome, were taken over for this purpose, with staff parking moved some distance away to a surfaced, but unused, area previously designated for ‘support’ purposes.
A competition, managed by English Partnerships, had begun in March 1999 to formally decide the future of the Dome. From an initial entry of more than 70, twelve proposals won through to the next stage. These plans were presented at Public Exhibitions at Christchurch Forum in East Greenwich and at the Theatre Royal, Stratford in November 1999. The six shortlisted proposals were decided in January 2000 and a final decision was to be taken on the winning plan by late summer 2000.
Some details about the two final shortlisted candidates as well as the previous round’s six proposals for the future use of the Dome appeared in the Spring 2000 issue of the Greenwich Peninsula News published by English Partnerships.
Another late bid by the BBC and Tussauds to run the Dome was fairly promptly laid to rest by the Government. Ministers met on 9/7/2000 to decide on the winning bid from the two shortlisted candidates, Legacy plc and Nomura International’s Dome Europe plan. The latter bid was higher, and was favoured by Cllr. Chris Roberts, Leader of Greenwich Council, and Sir Bob Scott, by now Chief Executive of the Greenwich Millennium Trust. They both welcomed the decision (to appoint Nomura) as “offering the best opportunity for local jobs and increased tourism” offering job security to the Dome’s current workforce. In contrast, Legacy’s plans were favoured by Cllr. Bob Harris, Deputy Leader of Greenwich Council, and by the Greenwich Society, both of whom considered the Legacy scheme would offer better job opportunities.
After having won the race to take over the Millennium Dome from January 2001, Nomura International’s Dome Europe scheme was soon abandoned. How it was ever possible for Nomura to base its proposals on the previous guesswork of the NMEC regarding visitor numbers for their one year MEX exhibition in a ‘special’ year is beyond this author!
This left Legacy plc with a new opportunity, although the Dome was effectively back on the market amid Government claim that they had received ‘a lot of enquiries’, aside from the well publicised ones such as those referred to below. The new ‘terms and conditions’ for the sale were apparently published by English Partnerships, but never seen by the author. There is to be ‘flexibility’ in relation to how much land adjacent to the Dome site is to made available to prospective buyers.
PY Gerbeau originally put forward his dream to develop the Dome as a concert venue and visitor attraction, although this finally came to grief when he decided that there was no way that his backers wished to take on additional responsibility for developing the land in the vicinity of the present Dome complex.
In late October 2000, amid rumours of Legacy being unable to come up with appropriate backing, Paul Reichmann and the Canary Wharf Group, recently listed as Britain’s largest property company worth £4 billion, were said to be lurking in the background to pick up the pieces. They were manly interested in the land immediately adjacent to the Dome and the Station, already earmarked as a ‘business district’ on the redeveloped Greenwich Peninsula site, but may well have had to take on the Dome as well in order to achieve a purchase. Whether that would have been considered if the option to demolish the Dome was unavailable to them we shall now never know!
Legacy PLC lost (15/2/01) the opportunity to move ahead virtually unhindered by rival bids and finally pulled out of the ‘race’ altogether. Although given the virtual ‘OK’ by the Government to go ahead with their £125 million scheme, Legacy failed to convince either them or other sceptics that they could properly fund the scheme or find suitable tenants. Their plans, for a Knowledge City, envisaged 14,000 jobs on the site by 2003, although critics claimed that that number was ‘wildly optimistic’. What was worse, there was little definite commitment from any future tenants in the scheme, despite Sun Microsystems, Imperial College and the Open University having been touted as being ‘interested’ participants in the venture. Legacy spent a considerable amount of money on local publicity for the scheme, including a number of presentations by representatives of the architects involved of a computer-generated 3D ‘fly-through’ of the ‘City’
In the run-up to the Legacy decision, yet another plan – to develop the Dome as a 55,000 seat concert venue to take over from the ‘absent’ Wembley Stadium – was proposed by The Experience Group, and apparently rejected ‘out of hand’ by the Government. The consortium, supported by Harvey Goldsmith, dance club Ministry of Sound, two property development companies, a US-based finance company and a Malaysian leisure firm, was believed to have offered £135 million to maintain the venue in its current ‘leisure’ role. They had described Legacy’s plans for the Dome as ‘mind-numbingly boring’.
In early October 2000, it was later revealed that a report to Ministers by merchant bankers, Lazards, had apparently recommended that the Dome be “torn down to maximise revenue from the site”. This process would have cost between £15 and £30 million! Greenwich Council had previously announced that it would apply for a local ‘listed’ status for the structure, and Ministers were also believed to be against the idea of demolition.
This author is of the view that the vogue in early 2001 for linking the ‘failure’ of the Dome to attract the expected visitor numbers in the Millennium Year with a notion that the structure itself should be demolished, is a totally erroneous one. It is bizarre in the extreme that a building that only nine months ago had 10 proposals for its future use should now, potentially, be pulled down. Plans are still in hand by the Greenwich Society, the Westcombe Society and other local amenity groups to canvas local opinion and to possibly mount a Save the Dome campaign, should the idea of demolition become a renewed threat.
Skyscape, however, survived just a few months. The BSkyB-funded cinema/performance arena that hosted the Blackadder film and Miss World 2000 was fairly rapidly reduced to a mere skeleton. In contrast, a number of other ‘support’ buildings remained.
It was apparently costing £1 million a month just to keep the Dome standing empty doing absolutely nothing. Surely the odd brain or two might have considered retaining basic catering facilities and the central arena? At least it might then have hosted occasional concerts or sports events during the year, especially with Wembley Stadium being unavailabke (or is it??.. another fiasco!).
Interesting, and for once 98% factually correct, article by Andy Beckett, in The Guardian 14/5/01 on the current, very sorry, state of the Dome and it’s immediate surroundings.
A report in an architect’s magazine recently stated that Marks Barfield, architects of BA’s London Eye, are pushing a plan to erect a huge residential tower on or near the Dome site! This seems to fly full in the face of moves against high-rise blocks in recent years, and would have major implications for London City Airport which seem to have been totally discounted, let alone the foundation problems in relation to the Jubilee Line.
Another recent report in the Docklands News claims Arsenal Football Club might ‘move to the Dome site’ to get close to their Woolwich roots if the current planning application with Islington Council founders. Having led with this, the accompanying article says absolutely nothing about any actual plans!
A Planning Application for the opening up of the Thames Path around the Dome, a requirement of Greenwich Council’s original planning permission for the Dome site, finally appeared in mid-June, 2001, but the deadline for implementation (six months after the MEX ceased operation) passed, so someone is in breach of something… somehere!
English Partnerships have now taken over responsibility for the Dome site from the NMEC. At a meeting organised by the Greenwich Environment Forum, an E.P. spokesman stated that there would definitely not be a new competition to decide the future of the Dome. They (E.P.) were in talks with a number of interested parties (one report claims as many as 100), and it was likely that the final use would be ‘entertainment’ oriented. However, there is not likely to be any decision taken this year, although some kind of announcement may be made in September.
According to a Sunday Telegraph report on 15/7/01, the Wellcome Trust is said to be negotiating with the Government to take over the Millennium Dome and develop it into a bio-medical research centre. The organisation has supposedly earmarked £300 million for the project and intends to build laboratories inside the Dome to research the combating of diseases. The site may also include space for displays of the Trust’s work.
It finally happened!
Scheduled to have occured within six months of the Dome’s closure, the section of the Thames Path around the Dome site was finally opened to the public on Monday, September 17th 2001. It is now possible to follow the path, which will also become part of the London Cycle Network, all round the tip of the Greenwich Peninsula, past the Environment Agency’s information panels and linking in with the previously opened section at the southern end of the old coach park. The Greenwich Pavilion remains inside the Dome periphery fence, but may open to passing trade in the future.
It was earlier noted that what was biled as the largest Macdonalds restaurant in Europe was no more, having been removed to leave just tidy foundations. However, the publicised immediate demise of the ‘high-end’ souvenir shop, the Dome’s own pub, The Red Boot, and the outdoor performance arena proved premature after viewing the site from the new Path.
The London Evening Standard revealed (18/10/01) that the Ministry of Sound had made a planning application to use the Dome for a New Year’s Eve Party 2001/2002 for 40,000 ravers. The proposal would see three temporary music venues built inside.
The building is currently being prepared as a temporary venue for concerts and raves, weddings and bar mitzvahs. Amid the protracted talks to find a credible buyer for the site, eight teams of contractors are finishing the decommissioning project – flattening the floor so it can be used for these one-off events.
A new discussion group, the Greenwich Peninsula Forum, met for the first time on October 30th 2001 at the Dome’s Media Suite. This consultative body has been created to provide a mechanism for the two-way sharing of information and to allow Peninsula-related issues and the work of the parent public/private sector grouping, the Greenwich Peninsula Partnership, to be discussed and debated.
At the meeting, after an introduction from the Chair, Sir Bob Scott, speakers from Greenwich Council (Leader, Chris Roberts), English Partnerships/the Government (Ralph Luck) and Transport for London gave brief presentations on the current situation regarding the future of the Dome, hopes and aspirations for future employment on the whole of the Peninsula including property not currently owned by E.P., and the potential for improvements to the transport infrastructure. This includes the proposed Waterfront Transit from North Greenwich to Thamesmead, a possible third river crossing, either a road tunnel from the Peninsula to Silvertown (the idea of a bridge here has apparently been virtually ruled out), a DLR extension from City Airport via a tunnel to Woolwich, or a multi-purpose crossing at Thamesmead. This was followed by a lengthy Q&A session.
Press reports and photographs at the end of 2001 showing that the inside of the Dome roof is now filthy and ripped in places following the decommissioning works, emphasise once again the importance of there now being a rapid decision on the future use of the structure. Greenwich Council’s latest planning brief for the entire Peninsula published on 26/11/01 states clearly that the retention of the Dome as an ‘iconic structure’ is paramount to the on-going redevelopment of the Peninsula.
Ministry of Sound proposals for a New Year’s Eve Party come before Greenwich Council’s Planning Board on December 4th, 2001. The Council is recommending agreeing to the application, largely on the basis of the success of last year’s successful, but admittedly smaller, event in the Skyscape. There are just two objections from residents of the new Greenwich Millennium Village which relate to the fact that their secure car parking facilities are not complete and so there could be problems. The fact that the Dome is located at least three-quarters of a mile away from the Village and that most ticket holders are expected to arrive by the Jubilee Line would seem to make these objections somewhat invalid.
The BBC report (linked above) states that the Dome is to be developed as a 20,000 seat sports and entertainment complex. Meridian Delta Ltd has been appointed “exclusive partners” with English Partnerships and will provide £4bn of investment, at least 5,000 new homes and around 20,000 new jobs on the 150 acre site around the Dome, including 14 acres of land already owned by Quintain Estates, one of the partners in Meridian Delta Ltd..
Well…. it’s still standing!!!
The brilliantly sunny day that was 1/1/2002 saw the Dome still standing after an invasion of an estimated 50,000 clubbers on New Year’s Eve for the Ministry of Sound event. The music went on until 7.00 am on New Year’s Day. At 2.00am my house in Westcombe Hill, some two miles away, was quite literally throbbing. No doubt some will complain, but it was great to see the place in use again, and here’s hoping something else happens before the end of 2004!
The second meeting of the Greenwich Peninsula Forum took place on 13/2/02 when Lord Falconer spoke on the future of the Dome, followed by a brief presentation by the proposed ‘leaseholders’, Meridian Delta Ltd..
Now there definitely is a ‘done deal’!
Lord Falconer made a formal statement on 29/5/02 that the Dome is to be ‘given away’ to the preferred developer, Meridian Delta (a consortium comprising AEG, Lend Lease and Quintain Estates), in return for a share of profits made from the planned sports and entertainment arena and from associated buildings on an overall 170 acre site. A guaranteed £135 million is slated to be spent on the surrounding area including up to 7000 new homes, many in the affordable category for ‘key workers’. Some of this land is already owned by Quintain Estates, one of the partners of the Meridian Delta consortium. It was also announced that Lord Falconer, the former Dome Minister, would be joining the Home Office in a Cabinet re-shuffle.
Earlier claims that a further £200 million ‘sweetener’ towards the cost of new Thames crossing between the Greenwich Peninsula and Silvertown were part of the deal have been quashed. Any decision on this was not for the Government to make, but the Mayor of London, and there are two other rival bids in the pipeline for these monies, one at Woolwich and one at Gallions Reach, Thamesmead. Whatever the outcome, one thing is (hopefully!) certain.. it will not be a bridge, despite the Press claims. The Mayor has previously stated his opposition to that idea.
As a local resident, the author would also like to make one thing clear, despite the BBC’s report of 28/11/01. The Dome is not a ‘gloomy and shabby’ place. The Dome is in pristine condition. It is spick-and-span, inside and out. Taxpayers do not have to think of their money as having nothing to show for it. Although it is sad that there is no current use for the place apart from the one-off events listed below, it is a wonderful structure just waiting for a purpose. That could be next week or next month… and prior to any major works that might be necessary for the proposed Anshultz stadium.
An interesting Nike Football event was held at the Dome from June 1-15th 2002. Unique 3 + 3 format for 11-15 year old teams. Video games and evening DJs.
In addition, planning applications were agreed for two opera concerts in late June, but these appear to have sunk without trace.
A further application for a maximum of 25 days of possible events ranging from concerts to sporting events, exhibitions and product launches in the period from July 2nd 2002 to December 31st 2002 has also been passed by the Council’s Planning Board.
The third meeting of the Greenwich Peninsula Partnership Forum was held on Monday, July 8th 2002 at the Dome.
in 2003, the Dome continued to be available for hire, although there was little sign of any take-up. This will continue until December 2003 as agreed at present, although individual large events will require a further planning application.
The formal Planning Application for the Dome and associated land has been agreed by Greenwich Council’s Planning Board in early 2003. The Mayor of London originally saw fit to query the amount of ‘affordable housing’ available in the scheme, but fortunately it was eventually ratified.
Some rare events took place at the Dome on Saturday, July 19th, 2003 and over the August Bank Holiday W/E. The first of these, the Respect 2003 Anti-Racism Festival enlivened the venue in memory of the death 10 years earlier, in nearby Eltham, of Stephen Lawrence. Greenwich Council amalgamated their annual Anti-Racist Festival with this event. This was followed by an Asian ‘Mela‘ event in August.
At the August 2003 meeting of the Greenwich Peninsula Forum. Meridian Delta gave an update on their plans for the site. The required infrastructure work is now scheduled to begin in 2004, with the Arena works starting in late 2004 for completion in late 2006. Various questions were raised including future health care needs, the plans for a new primary school, the amount of open space proposed and whether there were plans for a pre-fabrication facility on site. There was also an update on local transport issues. A new bus route, the long-promised 228, which will run from North Greenwich Station via Sainsbury’s on the Peninsula to Greenwich Town Centre, Blackheath Hill and Blackheath Village will now definitely begin in Spring 2004. Unfortunately there would appear to be little chance of the planned Greenwich Waterfront Transit making it to the Town Centre in the forseeable future. Questions were raised as to why there is no electronic bus service information at North Greenwich Station whereas a number of other bus stops in the area serving the same bus routes have them. The Council have promised to raise the issue with TfL at their next Liaison Meeting.
A further meeting of the Greenwich Peninsula Forum took place at the Dome on October 20th, 2003.
Minutes of the May 2003 meeting of Greenwich Council’s Planning Board that were tabled revealed the following details of the outline planning permission approved for the overall Meridian Delta development over a period of 20 years. Each component is subject to a separate detailed planning application and there is an expectation that all building design will be to the highest standards;
1. Change of use and retention of the Millennium Dome;
2. External alterations to the Millennium Dome;
3. Erection of a 26,000 capacity Dome Arena;
4. Construction of Millennium Square;
5. Creation of Dome Waterfront sports, leisure, entertainment, retail complex within the Dome;
6. Temporary Car Parking to serve the Dome Area and Waterfront:
7. Up to 10,010 residential dwellings, student and special needs housing;
8. Up to 325,000 sq.m. office, research and development floorspace;
9. Up to 18,600 sq.m. light industrial business park;
10. Community uses including schools and health care provision;
11. 48 acres of Open Space;
12. New Hotel (maximum height to be 120m.);
13. Up to 22,800 sq.m. retail and up to 10,950 sq.m food and drink use.
It has been reported that the company that laid on what was initially said to be a ‘very successful’ Winter Wonderland event at the end of 2003 has apparently gone bust. The event included theme rides, circus, cartoon cinema, indoor skating rink, German Xmas Market and various other attractions. Entrance was £10 for adults but free for children, as were all attractions. However the rides and ice skating were charged additionally for adults. There was also be music. A special adult’s-only New Year’s Eve Party had to be cancelled owing to concerns about late-night transport.
Having now been shortlisted, London’s Olympic bid, London 2012, which includes the use of the Dome for gymnastics, trampolining, basketball and handball finals and nearby Greenwich Park for equestrian, modern pentathlon riding and running events begin to take on a new significance.
Meridian Delta’s development plans for the Dome received the final green light from Greenwich Council in February 2004 with the signing of the Section 106 agreement to provide extensive benefits to the local community as well as improvements to the transport infrastucture. ‘Unconditional’ status was awarded by the Secretary of State in June 2004.
Local residents of East Greenwich were circulated with a ‘newsletter’ entitled Regeneration News – East Greenwich, Issue 1, in Summer 2004, jointly published by English Partnerships and Greenwich Council on the plans for demolishing the old Greenwich District Hospital and the future of the site. There has also been a revised set of plans for the Lovell’s Wharf site adjacent to Pelton Road, East Greenwich, where the originally proposed multi-storey towers have been reduced in height to a much more modest 5-7 stories with very little lost by way of accommodation, yet an increase in the width of the Thames Path and other open space. Unfortunately there is neither a web version of this Newsletter, nor currently any reference to it on either English Partnership’s (now no more) or Greenwich Council’s site.
A meeting of the Greenwich Peninsula Partnership Forum was held on October 19th 2004. Members heard presentations on the latest proposals for the Lovell’s Wharf/Babcock Wharf site, Millennium Square, the Dome Arena as well as receiving a transport infrastructure update. The Agenda item to outline the public discussion document on the proposal, A New Heart for East Greenwich, was postponed to a later date, probably in early 2005. Cllr. Chris Roberts, Leader of Greenwich Council brought the meeting to a close with an update on the latest on the Thames Gateway Project.
The Dome hosted the annual Crisis Open Christmas event from December 23rd – 30th 2004, probably the last event to be held before the contractors move in to start work on the new stadium. Over 1,000 homeless people visited the Dome during this period supported by hundreds of Crisis volunteers.
A 12-member IOC team came to London on February 15th, 20105 for 4 days to check out the London 2012 Olympic Games Bid plans. They stayed at the exclusive Four Seasons Hotel in Canary Wharf. As part of this visit, the Dome and various other key locations such as Admiralty Arch were specially lit up on the night of Wednesday, February 16th.
Another meeting of the Greenwich Peninsula Partnership Forum was held on February 21st 2005. Members were updated on the latest situation regarding the A New Heart for East Greenwich plans, planning consent for the new Millennium Square, Section 106 plans for Blackwall Lane, signage to the north of the Blackwall Tunnel, improvements to the A102/Woolwich Road flyover junction, details of the 5-year Beckham Football Academy off East Parkside and the start of work on the Dome Arena.
Well… we (London as a whole this time) won again….!!! It was announced on July 6th, 2005 that the Capital had won its bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games.
So the Dome Arena is set to host part of that spectacular event which is obviously some years away yet. It’ll be my retirement year, so all the news between now and then relating to Dome you will hopefully find here. Congratulations to all the bid team o a great job!
A further meeting of the Greenwich Peninsula Partnership Forum was held on October 6th 2005. Members were updated on the latest situation regarding the O2 Waterfront, as the combo of the Arena and its associated attractions has become known, the new Village Square for the Greenwich Millennium Village, the latest on the A New Heart for East Greenwich development including the future of the old Greenwich District Hospital and details of the completion and the opening of the David Beckham Football Academy off East Parkside.
Read a full report…
Greenwich Peninsula Master Plan Presentation
The vision for Greenwich Peninsula has been announced.
Samantha Payne of the NewsShopper reported…
The £5bn development taking place in Greenwich over the next 15 years is the largest single regeneration scheme in London.
Eighty hectares of land surrounding The O2 (formerly the Dome) will be transformed into a new urban community providing 10,000 homes and 24,000 jobs.
It is a joint venture between Lend Lease, Quintain Estates and Development PLC, Meridian Delta Limited (MDL), English Partnerships and Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which will complement the already growing community at Greenwich Millennium Village.
MDL director Bert Martin and AEG president David Campbell presented the Greenwich Peninsula master plan on September 27, 2006 at the Greenwich Peninsula Business Centre, Green Place, Greenwich.
The talk was followed by a tour of Peninsula Square and The O2, which will feature a 23,000 capacity arena for entertainment and sports.
Of the 10,000 new homes, 3,800 will be affordable, which will mean homes for key workers such as nurses and teachers, as well as people with low incomes. The plans include 150 new shops and restaurants and the total amount of parkland and open space will be the same size as Green Park in London. A new secondary and primary school will also be built as well as health and childcare facilities, a museum and a multi-faith centre.
Mr Martin said: “Nothing of this scale has ever been done before. “It will be a residential location within a setting. We intend to continue our commitment to delivering a new community within clear sustainable principles.”
Developers hope to create London’s first Low Emissions Zone, maximising the use of public transport by promoting Thames Clippers Catamaran services, new bus routes and train services.
The first phase of the construction is Peninsula Square, which is well under way, with up to 850sq ft of granite being laid per week. It will be complemented by a covered walkway from North Greenwich Tube station, a 45m stainless steel mast and two circular water features. There will also be a video wall showing the latest gigs, events and concerts being held at The O2, which will also have a performance area. The square will be the same size as Leicester Square and be the gateway to The O2, which will be one of Europe’s leading entertainment venues.
The site will be completed next summer, along with the opening of the O2.
It’s impossible to comprehend the enormity of the arena until you visit – it has been said to be as big as two Trafalgar Squares and can fit 72 tennis courts. If you turned the massive tent upside down, it would contain 3.8bn pints of lager. Under The O2 roof, there will be a mixture of leisure attractions including a music club, an 11-screen cinema, restaurants and a theatre. The massive arena will host 150 events in its first year and it is hoped the arena could be adapted from a basketball court to an ice hockey rink in less than two hours.
Mr Campbell said: “We want to make it a high class venue. “We hope to put on three events every day and create the ultimate positive customer experience, and I can guarantee you will never get a warm pint of beer from any point in the arena.”
A further meeting of the Greenwich Peninsula Partnership Forum was held on January 10th 2006. Read a full report..
The O2 Arena is now promised a Summer 2007 opening, and the associated Exhibition Centre will host a visit from the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs roadshow on the last leg of its world tour before returning, permanently, to Egypt.
An intriguing e-Mail arrived from, of all places, Atlanta, Georgia..
Norman Hulme writes;
“I’ve been an avid collector of items from the Millennium Dome since my initial visit back in April 2000. As my collection has constantly grown, I’ve needed some way to keep track of what I was acquiring. Well, one thing has led to another, and I’ve recently created a web site called The Millennium Dome: A Collection.”
10-1 no-one over here bothered to do something like this!
Local Open Days at the O2
Every Sunday from October 15th 2006 to November 5th 2006 between 10am and noon the Dome was opened to the public for an advance look at how the construction was progressing.
Nearly 1,000 people worked on the Arena prior to its opening on July 15th 2007. The O2 Arena is to be a state-of-the-art, 20,000 capacity music and sports arena attracting top artists and shows from around the world. The O2 includes an entertainment district of attractions as well a live music club (Indigo), premier screen cinemas, an exhibition space, bars, and restaurants all under one roof.
The O2 Opening and Beyond
The O2 Arena, Indigo, the cinemas and restaurants all opened on schedule on July 15th, 2007. Since that time the Arena has hosted a series of major concerts with artists including The Rolling Stones, Prince, Barbara Streisand, and Take That. The Tutankhamun Exhibition opened on November 15th 2007.
Other developments in the area have been the granting of planning permission for an exciting new building for Ravensbourne College, due to open in 2010, who will be moving from their current premises in Chislehurst. Also on the education front, a new building is planned for the John Roan School, currently located on a split site in Westcombe Park Road and Maze Hill.
There are further exciting proposals for the first of the commercial premises which will also be located immediately adjacent to the Dome.
The World’s Most Popular Music Venue (already!)
The O2 Arena, Indigo, the cinemas and restaurants have been extremely successful and resulted in the Arena being declared the most popular music venue on the planet! In addition, a tented arena to the north of the main Dome was set up and occupied from February to the end of May 2008 with Afrika! Afrika!, an exiting, German-based company along similar lines to the Cirque du Soleil – who, it is rumoured may set a permanent presence within the confines of the Dome as part of the Phase II development proposals.
Work on the first commercial site adjacent to the Dome currently has steel-works several stories high. It is believed that this is to be the new headquarters building for Transport for London (TfL). There is currently no sign of construction work as such on the immediately adjacent site that has been allocated to Ravensbourne College who are to move to the Peninsula from the site in Chislehurst that they have outgrown..
Last updated 25/7/2008 – owing to pressure of work at that time!
The MEX is no more.. long live the Dome!
Greenwich Time, Greenwich Council’s newspaper, 21/3/96, with numerous later additions
The Independent, 1/11/96
The Independent on Sunday, 15/6/97
NewsShopper (Greenwich & Charlton), 2/7/97
Evening Standard, 24/2/98
London Tonight, ITV, 20/10/98
Greenwich Peninsula Newsletter, various dates