The Dome giveaway


The Millennium Dome is being sold off for a fraction of its true value, it was claimed last night.

Ministers could get up to £600million for the structure and surrounding land, according to financial experts. Yet they plan to sell it to a group headed by Labour party donor Robert Bourne for just £125million.

Even that sum will be paid only over a number of years and could depend on planning permission for lucrative housing developments nearby. Details of the deal will fuel accusations that it is riddled with New Labour 'cronyism'.

Mr Bourne's Legacy group wants to turn the giant tent beside the Thames in South-East London into a high-tech business park, providing office space for fledgling Internet companies. But experts said he appeared to be getting the Dome and the surrounding land at a knock- down price.

Maurice Fitzpatrick, head of economics at city accountants Chantrey Vellacott DFK, said office space in Central London is currently being sold at around £600 per square foot.

But the asking price for the 20 acres of floorspace inside the Dome meant it was being sold off for the equivalent of £125 per square foot, not including the additional land outside the structure.

'The space has yet to be converted into offices but, having said that, £600 per square foot is a modest valuation in itself,' said Mr Fitzpatrick.

'The Dome is across from Canary Wharf. It's got a unique reputation and it's a well-known site. It's the largest covered site in London.

'Although there would be costs converting it to office space, it's so tall you may even be able to add a second layer to it. However you measure it, it's significantly less than a typical City of London property would be fetching.'

He added: 'There are a lot of variables and it's a unique site so it's difficult to compare with others but all the same, £125million is a pretty modest price for what you're getting.'

Hundreds of millions of pounds of public money were poured into the site in Greenwich, clearing away pollution and building road and rail links.

Cabinet Office Minister Lord Falconer admitted yesterday that Mr Bourne would not pay the full amount for the site when the sale contract is signed next month.

Only around £50million will be handed over, with the rest to come in instalments 'over a period of years'.

Lord Falconer refused to confirm reports that the later payments would be made only if Mr Bourne got planning permission for a luxury housing estate in the shadow of the Dome. Such a riverside development could fetch up to £200million.

Lord Falconer insisted, however, that £125million was 'not a knockdown price'. He told Sky News he was keen to ensure the sale provided 'value for money'.

He has previously pledged to include a clause in the contract ensuring the Government gets a share of any 'excessive profits'.

Ministers have been accused of cronyism for selling the Dome to Mr Bourne, a close friend of Peter Mandelson. He has also given £100,000 to the Labour Party and £2,000 to the constituency party of Culture Secretary Chris Smith.

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