AS one dome sinks into the mire of public contempt, another dome is rising in the valley of the Almond River, and its backers are quietly confident that it will reap a much richer harvest of goodwill.

Where the Millennium Dome resembled a large, and latterly rather empty, tent, the dome of

the new McArthurGlen complex in Livingston is more reminiscent

of St Paul's, or the renaissance cathedrals of Rome.

Which is entirely appropriate, said project director Mark

Bradbury as he looked up at the massive glass structure. ''There is a deference in the architecture to the great cathedrals. And don't they say that shopping is the new religion?''

The new designer outlet, which has cost #52m to build and which opens its doors today, certainly aims to attract and amaze the masses. Its 300,000 sq ft of retail space makes it the largest such shopping centre in Scotland. It will, according to Bradbury, have one million consumers within a 30-minute drive, three million within an hour, and four million, or 80% of Scotland's population within 90 minutes. It is expected to create more than 1000 jobs directly. Spin-

off employment has not been quant-ified but is expected to be


BAA McArthurGlen, which designed, built and will run the new shopping centre, has been operating in Britain since 1993. It has been looking at the Central Belt of Scotland for more than five years. ''We considered a

number of sites, but put a deal together with Land Securities with the support of West Lothian

Council in 1996,'' said Bradbury.

''Local authorities and planning are the vital first step. Out of town retailing, as you will gather, is not the flavour of the month, but here we are slap in the middle of

the town. Livingston is a very ambitious, growing community, keen to add as many facilities as possible for its residents, but also things which will attract people to the town who would not otherwise come.''

''The centre is not only

accessible to Glasgow and Edinburgh, but will also draw people down from the north. You can't get much more accessible than the junction of the M8 and the M9.''

BAA McArthurGlen is Europe's biggest developer and operator of designer outlets, with 23% of the market. Its shops offer savings of 30% to 50% on prestige branded goods. The company has attracted more than 400 upmarket brands to its shopping malls, including Armani, Bally, DKNY, Dolce & Gabbana, Gap, Lacoste, Paul Smith, Timberland and Versace.

It was brought to Britain by colourful chief executive JW (Joe) Kaempfer, 52, a Washington developer who played a key role in the growth of McArthurGlen in America, where it has 25 centres from coast to coast.

Connecticut-born Kaempfer was instrumental in convincing the market that discount shopping could be done with panache. The Harvard Business School graduate originally worked for McArthur co-founder Alan Glen. The story is that when major tenants like Liz Claiborne and Nike wanted to move into Europe, Glen told Kaempfer: ''I am too old, too tired, too busy. If you want to do it, do it.''

Kaempfer did. He moved his family to Britain and went into partnership with airport operator BAA, one of the largest owners of retail space in Britain, with a turnover of #2bn, and grew BAA McArthurGlen from scratch to a turnover to March this year of #325m.

The secret, said Bradbury, was in operating the centres as well as building them. ''A typical deve-loper will sell on within a year of completion. We act differently, partly because we know the investment value grows over time and, if you sell out too quickly, you do not always get the best price.''

He is acutely conscious of the importance of branding. ''We put our name on the centre - it is not called 'The Glades' or something like that. It's important in getting the message over that we are offering a quality product.

''Anyone can go down to the market and get a Calvin Klein

tee-shirt that falls apart after two washes. We had to put across the message that our designer labels are different, and our branding is crucial in that. You can't franchise that to someone else.''

Investors are invited to buy into the centres after about 12 months of operation. Some of McArthurGlen's other outlets - in Chester, Swindon, and Wales - have attracted major pension funds such as BP, CIS, Norwich Union and Equitable Life. Typically McArthurGlen would retain a share of between 8% and 25% and - ''very importantly'', according to Bradbury - they are retained as managers. ''Our tenants like that, as they know we will maintain the quality.''

Tenants' fees are linked to their revenues, which incentivises both parties, and a percentage is devoted to marketing, including a tourism officer, who is charged with attracting coach parties, negotiating local hotel deals, and providing shopping packages.

The centre will be run by

manager Dee Maher and marketing manager Karen Dowall.

It includes a multiplex cinema, a health centre, food courts and a swimming pool.

The design, by American archit-ect Don Hisaka, features a

spectacular water sculpture under the dome by Japanese artist

Shingu. In a very appropriate metaphor for central Scotland, spinning metal mesh represents clouds and a water cascade the rain.

''One of the workers asked why we didn't just leave the roof off,'' said Bradbury. ''I think he had missed the point a bit.''

Rival outlets

McArthurGlen is the latest in a line of designer discount

outlets. Others include:

Freeport, West Calder: one of six UK outlets owned by Freeport plc, which is expanding into Portugal and Sweden. West Calder opened in 1995 and has 40 shops, the biggest attraction of which is the Versace outlet, the only one in Scotland.

A spokesman said: ''The new McArthurGlen centre at Livingston is going to be very good news for our business. We have just had a record weekend of sales and the more shoppers who are attracted into the area the better for everybody''.

Loch Lomond Outlets: owned by property company MEPC, has been open in its current form since 1997. The former Argyll car factory and wartime torpedo facility has 54,000 sq ft of space.

Spokeswoman Elizabeth Sweeney said: ''We are quite far away from Livingston and would not expect it to affect us.''

''Our most serious competitor at the moment is Braehead, near Renfrew, even though it is a different part of the retail spectrum. A lot of our trade comes from tourism attracted to Loch Lomond .''

Gretna Gateway Village: opened in September last year, is owned by Outlet Centres International, whose main business is in Europe, particularly Sweden and Germany. The centre - ''literally on the hard shoulder of the M74,'' according to spokesman Peter Gardner - has 80,000 sq ft of space in its first phase and permission for

an extension of up to 50,000 sq ft.

Gardner said: ''McArthurGlen is far enough away not to have a great impact on us. We are strategically positioned not only for cross-border traffic but for shoppers coming from Northern Ireland and Newcastle. It is almost a crossroads.''

Sterling Mills, Tillicoultry: owned by construction group Morrison and opened in April last year. The village has 86,000 sq ft of space and 36 shops, the most prominent of which is Nike. A new phase scheduled for Christmas, 2001, will add 40,000 more sq ft and 25 new shops

Bryan Barbour, retail operations director, said: ''If you look at the outlet sector, it has become increasingly better established over the past 18 months.

''McArthurGlen will certainly raise awareness and we see it as a positive move.

''But we have no worries about it. We can compete with anyone in terms of goods and services.''