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The search is on for post-2000 uses for the dome

English Partnerships has officially launched an international competition to find a new use for the Millennium Dome in spring 2001, after the big party is over, but has warned against proposals which conflict with the 'design integrity' of the Richard Rogers-designed icon.

ep development director for the Greenwich peninsula, Ralph Luck, explained that this meant 'ripping the roof off is out of the question', and that any new additions must respect and avoid 'overshadowing' the uk's turn- of-the-century symbol. The dome must not be moved, he said. It is too early to consider questions about external advertising on its skin, from firms like McDonald's, its eventual colour, or associations with tobacco or arms companies, for example.

The aim of the competition is to provide a significant contribution to establishing the peninsula as a 'thriving and vibrant mixed-use quarter for London'; maximising the use of nearby integrated public-transport schemes; providing 'value for money'; and, lastly, ensuring a commercially viable future for the dome which 'preserves the design integrity of the dome's structure and makes use of innovative and creative techniques in terms of future design, use and occupation'.

Last week Nick Raynsford, mp for Greenwich and minister for London and construction, joined forces with New Millennium Experience Company chief Jennie Page, minister responsible for the Dome Lord Thoroton, and ep chief executive Paula Hay-Plumb, to kick off the contest. ep has pinpointed over 1000 companies worldwide, such as Disney, and financial brokers with the wherewithal to take on the brief, and sent them a glossy brochure with a foreword by Prime Minister Tony Blair detailing the assets for future use and disposal up for grabs for the winning team. These are: the dome structure and services on the 19.4ha site; other assets of nmec, such as the services and intellectual property rights; and up to 8ha of associated land directly south of the 76,650m2 dome. Merry Hill developer, the Richardson brothers, has already expressed an interest.

Ralph Luck said ep was being advised on the four-stage competition route by Price Waterhouse Coopers and Jones Lang Wootton, but as yet there was no advisory panel. 'It's not like selling a piece of real estate,' he said. 'It's more of a business opportunity.' Jennie Page added: 'This is a commercial competition, not an architectural competition.' Each stage will inform the next stage, but ultimately the government will make the decision. This will not fall necessarily at the door of Raynsford, since, as the local mp, he may be seen to have a conflict of interests. The riba is not involved in the process, but Luck said ep would consult Richard Rogers on technical issues.

An invitation to a detailed briefing will be issued next month to interested organisations, followed by a request for further details in June. In November a shortlist of proposals with 'the most viable, sustainable, and innovative ideas' will be asked to fully work up ideas and financial bids for the final choice. A contract is expected to be signed with the winner in autumn next year. The winner may have to pay dismantling costs of some of the internal exhibits, although some are owned by the individual sponsors.

So far the Sports Council and sports minister Tony Banks have expressed interest in turning the dome into a sporting venue to tie into an Olympic bid. But a technical study carried out for ep has shown that the shape of the structure means that an indoor football stadium on artificial turf would be able to hold only around 20,000 spectators. London First has expressed interest in turning it into a conference centre. It is investigating two or three options in the capital for an international convention centre, but is concerned at the government's requirement for money back on the dome deal.

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