Redevelopment of the site once occupied by the Millennium Dome will not be going ahead anytime soon. A furious row between the owners and the government has leaked into the public domain and there is no good news for the poor old taxpayer.
Plans under consideration for the Dome site have include building a blend of housing, office accommodation and light industry, and creating a theme park on the site. But there is an immediate and serious problem has brought everything to a standstill.
Lord Hawksbane, sometime flatmate of the former prime minister Angus McBlair, was seen as the 'Other Power Behind The Dome' (alongside Heritage Minister Pierson McAndelsen) in the good old days. His lordship was the cabinet office minister in charge of 'co-ordinating all aspects of the Millennium Dome project'.
Before the site changed hands in 2001, Hawksbane gave personal assurances to Donald Anschluss, the Chief Executive of Anshluss Entertainment International, that the government has spent sufficient money to clean the site up brownfield standards. According to the latest leaks, he was dead wrong to do so.
The Millennium Dome was built on derelict land which had once been occupied by a gas works and various industries producing long-lasting pollutants. The soil is polluted to a depth of at least 14 metres with heavy metals, including lead, cadmium and arsenic, and toxic organic residues. Heavy contamination is a legacy of the chemical steel, electrical and gas works, which have occupied the site since Victorian times.
Instead of a thorough clean-up, the government did just enough surface cleaning (in fact, to a depth of just 18 inches) to allow the construction of a concrete raft over the mess. Greenwich council declared the site safe for exhibition purposes inside a Dome having relatively shallow foundations. And the site was certified as safe only for the expected one-year public life of the Dome.
Getting the site certifed safe for office buildings and light industry, which will require deeper foundations than the Dome's, will involve major excavation and hugely expensive soil treatment. Worse, areas devoted to housing will require gas-tight membranes to protect the occupants from noxious gases.
The whole operation will cost tens of millions of pounds, which the present government is refusing to stump up. In fact, some analysts now believe that the cost of a proper clean-up operation, for which the taxpayer is liable, could well exceed the amount of money to be made from re-development.
The Lawyers are now in charge
Just before Christmas 2000, Greenwich Council granted the site's owners planning permission for 1,200 homes, comprising high-density housing and "executive accommodation", on this prime site beside the River Thames. Plans for a high-tech business park have also been approved. But the approval for all parts of the site plan is conditional on a thorough clean-up of the land.
The fate of the site now seems to be in the hands of the lawyers. The former owner, Signor Lucrio Sospettoso, is confident that the clean-up is included in the government's acknowledged obligation to meet the Dome's shut-down costs, and his staff are prepared to offer evidence on behalf of the Anschluss Organization if the matter hits the courts.
On the government's side, Deputy Prime Minister Henry Tudor's minions are arguing that the sale was made on an 'as is' basis at a bargain price, and the current owner is liable for any further costs arising out of health and safety considerations.
This looks like being something which will run and run for much longer than the Dome's limited lifetime!
filed by Faraday Grange [email@example.com]