Thursday, February 01, 2007
AEG boss: "I'm still standing"... but for some, sorry seems to be the hardest word
(NB: Bad puns explained below)
In a frank and very interesting presentation last night, AEG Europe's Chief Executive David Campbell confirmed there is no 'plan B' following the unsuccessful Casino bid, and that there are no plans to appeal against the decision at this stage.
Whilst the entertainment arena and associated retail and leisure developments in 'phase 1' of the development are nearing completion and are due to open in July this year, the luxury hotel, world-standard exhibition space and other related regeneration which were dependent on the Casino will not now go ahead. This matches the assumptions laid out in the now-infamous PWC report about the viability of the development, and in reply to my questions Mr Campbell confirmed that AEG are now working on the "Base Case" scenario (without casino) identified in that report.
He said that if there were an alternative which could match the casino in its ability to attract significant numbers of visitors to stay overnight and thus act as a catalyst for the rest of the development, "I think we would have found it by now - there is nothing". He added that the number of hotels being build on the other side of the river in Canary Wharf made a hotel at North Greenwich less attractive. There may be a possibility of still mounting the Tutankhamun exhibition as a one-off event, but he could make no promises.
Nevertheless, the presentation on the existing development in the former Dome was unquestionably impressive. The concert arena on its own will be a fantastic world-class venue, with state-of-the-art facilities for music and sport, and I can't wait to see it in action: Justin Timberlake and Scissor Sisters have already been booked for July, and Mr Campbell dropped strong hints about another artist who has been checking it out (see headline of this post for a clue). A smaller live music club overseen by the former manager of Ronnie Scott's, and the entertainment district with quality shops and restaurants also look very good. Check out the website for details.
Earlier, I asked Leader of the Council Chris Roberts if he felt his public reaction to the casino decision should have contained an expression of regret, or at least disappointment at the result, rather than just congratulating the winners. He claimed his statement had been 'responsible' before accusing me of 'single-handedly seeking to undermine the bid' and saying my remarks in the press this week were 'reprehensible'. Much as I take pride in being personally abused by the Labour leadership, I noted he still didn't express much regret.
Meanwhile, Lib Dem Councillor Paul Webbewood was subjected to a motion of censure by the Labour Leadership, following his alleged verbal attack on the Mayor for deferring members' questions and hurriedly closing the November council meeting. My Conservative colleague Chris Taylor proposed an amendment proposing the Mayoralty be made more clearly non-partisan to avoid the sort of row which led to the original outburst. Labour rejected this - predictably - and after Cllr Webbewood refused again to apologise, the motion of censure was passed, whilst we abstained. This drawn-out debate meant we had limited time to discuss the Conservative motion on childcare proposed by Cllr Elizabeth Truss, before the meeting again hit the guillotine after 3 and a half hours.