London’s controversial artificial hill branded by one tourist as ‘the worst thing she had ever done’ is days away from being dismantled.
The £6m Marble Arch Mound boasting grass, shrubs and real trees was commissioned by Conservative Westminster Council as part of a post-Covid revival plan for the West End of the city. However, it was mocked by tourists, temporarily closed shortly after opening and according to one Westminster City Councillor “made us look stupid”. Costing £150,000 a month to upkeep, the mound officially closes on the 9th of January 2021.
The 25-metre mound was meant to give views of the capital’s Oxford Street, Hyde Park, Mayfair and Marylebone. But just a day after it opened, parts of the man-made mountain were “not ready for visitors”, Westminster Council admitted.
Westminster Council’s Oxford Street District Programme Director, responsible for the Council Marble Arch Mound fiasco, was paid £220,000 a year, making him the Council’s highest paid employee, earning more than the Council’s Chief Executive who is currently paid £217,545 per annum.
The information is revealed in a Council document, ‘Senior Salaries at Westminster Council, April 2021’, which sets out details of 179 staff earning more than £68,000 a year and which the Council is obliged to publish each year under The Local Government Transparency Code 2015.
The Oxford Street District Programme Director resigned from the Council in the Autumn of 2021 after the cost of the Marble Arch Mound project increased dramatically from £2 million to £6 million, leading to the resignation of the Council’s Deputy Leader.
Plans to charge visitors for access to the Mound were abandoned following national, international and local media coverage which dubbed the project ‘London’s Worst Tourist Attraction’.
In October 2021, a Council internal investigation of the Mound project described the soaring costs of the scheme as “devastating” and “avoidable”. The report by the Council’s Chief Executive said there were “clear and repeated warnings” about the project being overbudget.
The Marble Arch Mound will close on 9th January and contractors will take four months to dismantle the £6 million Mound, starting on 18th January. The Council says:
“The Marble Arch Mound will close to the public on 9th January. The process of decommissioning the Mound will begin on 10th January, with the removal of the art installation and onsite operator facilities. Deconstruction of the Mound will then begin 18 January 2022 and our contractors FM Conway will erect site perimeter barrier. It is anticipated that the decommissioning work will be completed around May 2022.”
Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Labour City Management spokesperson, said:
“The Marble Arch Mound has been a disaster from start to finish. Costs have trebled from £2 million to £6 million. It has been dubbed ‘London’s Worst Tourist Attraction’ and has made the Council a national and international ‘laughing stock’. It is first on the Daily Mail’s list of white elephants of 2021. And to cap it all, the Deputy Leader of the Council was forced to resign because of the financial incompetence.”
“Now we find out that the Officer responsible for this financial debacle was paid £220,000 a year, even more than the Council’s Chief Executive. The Leader of the Council needs to explain why she signed off such an enormous salary. The Conservative Councillors responsible for the Marble Arch Mound should hang their heads in shame and apologise to the people of Westminster for wasting so much public money.”
“Visitors were supposed to pay £6 each but because it was such a disaster the council had to make it free!” said Paul Dimoldenberg, shadow cabinet member for city management.
“It could have paid for CCTV to monitor the drug hotspots and other crime hotspots all over Westminster.
“It could have helped clean up the mounds of rubbish that are dumped on the streets.
“It’s made us look stupid in the eyes of local people, across the UK and internationally,” he added.
“We had to have a bold idea that would bring people back and it’s brought people back in spades,” Councillor Green said. “I regret the overspend on the mound but I don’t regret the objectives and what it’s achieved which is bringing 250,000 people back into Oxford Street.
“If 250,000 people have enjoyed it over the past few months, never say never, but come and visit this weekend because you’ll probably not be able to do so again!” he added.