City leader stands firm in ‘mound’ row
‘Over 100,000’ have visited £6m ‘cult classic’ that Labour say should go
24 September, 2021 — By Tom Foot
Cllr Rachel Robathan on the controversial Marble Arch Mound
THE leader of the city council has apologised for the Marble Arch Mound failures while insisting it has become a “cult classic” as she faced calls for it to be immediately dismantled.
Cllr Rachel Robathan told the full council meeting on Wednesday that 100,000 people had scaled the hollow hill since it opened in late July. The scheme’s original construction budget was £2million but costs have risen to more than £6million, effectively costing each Westminster taxpayer £50.
In a motion, the Labour group leader Adam Hug had urged Cllr Robathan to get a grip and warned the current administration did not know the difference between “rhetoric and reality”. The motion, which was rejected, called for the council to “dismantle and remove the Marble Arch Mound as soon as is practicable” while calling for meaningful consultation with residents over future major projects before any more public money was wasted.
“The council resolves not to proceed with further major capital investments within the West End district project until all reviews of council decision-making relating to the Marble Arch Mound and related issues are completed,” it said.
According to the council there were 5,000 visitors to the mound on Saturday, taking the total to more than 100,000 since the opening on July 26.
Many believe the large numbers are attending because of the widespread negative publicity about the mound project, which forced Westminster Council deputy leader Melvyn Caplan’s resignation.
While critics have drawn parallels with the public money profligacy of the Shirley Porter era, one social media influencer this week called on her 238,000 followers to “stop hating on the mound” in a viral film.
TikTok star HRH Queen G of London had been bowled over by the “incredible exhibition hidden inside” the hollow centre. The Lightfield installation by British artist Anthony James is made up of LED shapes and offers a mesmerising experience, complete with ambient soundtrack, said the council.
The mound was approved as part of a major push to bring back shoppers and tourists to the West End following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Footfall had plunged to historic lows during the lockdown and there were no immediate signs of recovery after the restrictions were lifted. There were concerns among some that Oxford Street might never return to being a retail destination.
But with life returning to normal at a faster pace than had been expected, the mound’s role in saving the West End from financial collapse has been hard to quantify.
But Cllr Robathan said: “people are flocking to this cult classic”, adding: “It is doing what it is supposed to be doing.”
She added: “I have stated publicly that the mound opened too soon and it was not ready, and for that I have apologised.
“But we have now passed 100,000 visitors since the mound opened. That is 100,000 people who might not have otherwise visited or spent any time in the local area, proving that the mound has been a real draw for people from far and wide.”
She added that the cost overrun was unacceptable and an ongoing “review” would establish all the reasons for the failures.
Cllr Robathan administration’s record on delivering major projects has come under the spotlight in recent weeks following the mound crisis and the collapse of the Oxford Circus piazzas project.
Labour councillor Paul Dimoldenberg said: “Westminster Conservatives are serial wasters of public money – it’s in their DNA. Wasting other people’s money is a habit which they cannot kick.”