It was the same with the Skylon. The futuristic steel and cable spire built for the Festival of Britain now lies rusting in a field. Of course, the Skylon was a great deal smaller than the dome and, as a result, a lot easier to get rid of.
You do not need the political wisdom of Lloyd George to spot the embarrassment that could greet this government in 2002 as the empty Millennium Dome rots in the harsh winds off the River Thames. This is not the sort of millstone that Tony Blair and his tacticians would wish to have hanging around their necks as they approach a general election, despite the fact that the Tories thought up the whole idea.
Wisely, the dome and most of its contents are to be put up for auction – an auction announced long before the place is finished. The prices that items in this auction fetch will depend entirely on how successful the whole enterprise is. If millions troop through the dome and the venture is declared a great triumph of the showman's trade, then funfair operators from Disney downwards will compete furiously to acquire the place and its contents. Spare land around the dome will be developed as hotels and shopping centres, restaurants, bars and souvenir stores. A great deal of money will be made by all and sundry and Michael Heseltine's dream will become a triumphant reality.
But if tourists take their gold to Rome and Jerusalem in the millennium year, the whole matter will take on an entirely different complexion. Heseltine's dream will become this government's nightmare.
Nick Raynsford, who is MP for Greenwich, has said there will be no more public money to develop the dome. Fine sentiments to utter today, but they may have to be forgotten tomorrow when the dome stands neglected, blighting the development of the Greenwich Peninsula for years to come.
If tourists take their gold to Rome or Jerusalem in 2000, Michael Heseltine’s dream will become this government’s nightmare
On announcing the great dome auction, a spokesperson for New Millennium Experience Company said: "Art galleries or museums will be able to acquire internationally famous icons of cultural value." What a load of tosh that person is talking. Perhaps he or she had better nip round to Bond Street and consult Sotheby's about the subtle art of the auctioneer.
Britain's cash-strapped museums and art galleries are hardly likely to spend their budgets on "icons" created by NMEC and its colleagues. It takes years for an object to become an international icon, not just a few months. "Theme parks, museums and those who have everything are expected to bid £10m for giant figures of a man and woman embracing," the spokesperson continued. Clients of this auction are more likely to be scrap merchants than art collectors.
As for the dome itself, it is a temporary building and, as such, its maintenance costs are likely to be high. It could only be used by a highly profitable undertaking or one in receipt of a subsidy. Early suggestions for its use include: a conference centre; a theme park – which, considering that a similar venture in Battersea failed to get off the ground, seems unlikely; a film studio; or a sports centre. A sports centre might be a runner, especially if the Olympic Games comes to London.
My own solution is the one that the dome's promoters first suggested – that the whole place be pulled down. The Greenwich Peninsula should be redeveloped in a sensible and orderly fashion, benefiting from the new transport arrangements and the publicity generated by the millennium celebrations.
An unsuccessful dome left in place would only be a handicap to future development.