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Project Failures: London’s £1M Per-Month Millennium Dome

May 23, 2016 by

December 31st, 1999. There was an air of excitement as the world waited to cross over into the year 2000 and the third millennium.

People celebrated, whooped and frolicked in the party atmosphere. As the day wore on, the excitement grew. Bars begin to fill, restaurants were booked out and the streets became black with people.


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A landmark day. One that will never be forgotten. But there’s one particular group whose New Year / New Millennium celebrations were about more than the ticking of a clock.

That group was the Millennium Dome project team.

Little was this team to know, their celebrations would be unfounded.


The Project

London’s Millennium Dome (or simply ‘The Dome’) was a project set up by John Major (then Prime Minister of England) under the Conservative government. It was to be opened on the 1st of January, 2000.

Initially, The Dome was to be a relatively small project – created to celebrate the incoming third millennium. It would showcase various attractions and exhibits open to the public for the duration of the year 2000.

In 1997, the project was greatly expanded in size upon the election to government of Tony Blair and his Labour comrades. The size, scope and funding of the project all dramatically increased.

The hype around the Millennium Dome grew. The English and London public began to expect a structural marvel full of wonderful exhibitions. A structure to be proud of; one that would attract and amaze; a building other cities could only dream of. And they had good reason to according to those behind the project.

Tony Blair declared the dome would be:

“a triumph of confidence over cynicism, boldness over blandness, excellence over mediocrity”

Surely this would be the apple of London’s eye for the millennial year? The jewel in the city’s crown? The attraction to trump all others?

Not quite.


Why it Failed

A colleague once told me that the key to life is managing people’s expectations. I don’t know if that’s the key to life, or even the key to this project, but expectation management would have certainly helped Mr. Blair and his politician pals.

There was such hype created around the development of the dome that wasn’t backed up by the project team. It was built up too much by the political figures backing it. It might have seemed like a fantastic idea, but it was ultimately a flop.

The reason for this was the project plan was poor. Hard questions such as what was to happen after the year 2000 were not answered before the go-ahead was given. Initially, it was thought one of the city’s many professional soccer teams would take it over and turn it into their home ground. This idea, unfortunately, fell through.

The year 2000 came and went. The Millennium Dome project team had constructed a towering white superstructure that, come January 1st, 2001, had no purpose. An empty structure on the banks of the river Thames. A waste of space, materials and the British people’s money.

Not only had the dome no purpose, it had astronomical maintenance costs. For every second the dome went unused it cost the British tax-payer just under 39 pence. Doesn’t sound too bad? Well, it is.

That 39p a second translates into 1 million British pounds every month. A little under 1.5 million US dollars.

1 million pounds a month to maintain a building that didn’t live up to expectation. 1 million pounds that didn’t create anywhere near the amount of tourism or revenue expected. 1 million pounds that was taken from the British tax-payer. And ultimately, 1 million pounds that could have easily helped those less fortunate scattered all around Britain.

The dome was out of use for a grand total of 12 months. 12 million pounds cost in total. Enough to feed over 3,000 people for a full year. And feed them well.


Lessons Learned

3 words: long-term planning.

The Millennium Dome project team had a short-sighted project plan. One which didn’t take into account the aftermath of the project. Hard questions such as “what will we do with this humongous building after the year 2000?” should have been answered before the project was initiated.

This lack of project planning ultimately caused the failure of the Dome. There were no structures put in place to ensure the building was put to good use come January 1st, 2001. No contracts signed. No contingency plans put in place. It was all up in the air – a complete lack of professionalism.

This project eventually met a happy end. The structure is now home to the O2, London. A theatre which hosts many events such as concerts and sporting occasions. Finally being put to good use.

Lucky London.

Ruairi O'Donnellan

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