Culture

London’s Marble Arch Mound attraction to close this weekend

Marble Arch Mound, the scaffolding-and-turf urban peak that stood 25m tall, came with a £6m price tag and claimed the scalp of Westminster council’s deputy leader, will close on Sunday.

The widely mocked Mound promised lush vegetation, mature trees and thick greenery from an elevated platform on the corner of Hyde Park and Oxford Street in London, but when it opened on 26 July, visitors reported spindly trees, unhappy plants and a general sense of dereliction.

The attraction, designed to lure people back to West End shops as lockdown restrictions eased, was initially commissioned for £3.3m, but costs ballooned to £6m.

“The execution was flawed from start to finish,” an insider at Westminster council told the Guardian. “The idea of getting people back to the West End is a good one, but this was a lesson in how not to do project management – they overpromised and underdelivered.”

Plans were drawn up for customers to be charged between £4.50 and £8 to scale the hill, but Westminster council quickly dispensed with the entry fees after describing “teething problems” on its opening. It has remained free to enter.

“The Mound opened too early, and we have apologised for that. It has become clear that costs have risen more than anticipated and that is totally unacceptable,” Westminster council’s leader, Rachael Robothan, said in a statement after the launch.

Deputy council leader Melvyn Caplan, the Conservative councillor who took charge of the project, resigned in August.

“Total costs are now £6m, covering every aspect of the project: construction, operation and eventual removal. With regret, I have accepted the resignation of my deputy leader, Melvyn Caplan, who led the Mound project,” Robothan said over the summer.

Marble Arch Mound is part of Westminster council’s wider £150m investment in the Oxford Street area as the district struggles to redefine itself in the post-Covid era. By August last year, nearly a fifth of shops on Oxford Street had closed permanently as a result of the pandemic.

In a statement ahead of the Mound’s closing on Sunday, the council defended the project.

“The Mound has done what it was built to do – drawn crowds and supported the recovery in the West End,” a spokesperson said. “Central London’s economy has suffered more than any other area during the pandemic. With footfall slashed and near-total loss of overseas tourists, many businesses have faced oblivion.”

The spokesperson added: “We’re really pleased that nearly 250,000 visitors have come to Westminster to see The Mound and the terrific light exhibition inside. Those visitors have gone on to spend money in shops, bars and restaurants across the West End – helping local businesses to get back on their feet.”

Dutch architecture company MVRDV drew up the designs for the Mound. The Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright said the attraction did not live up to the CGI plans – “none of the greenery looks happy,” he wrote.

Some visitors likened the Mound to the blocky video game landscapes of Super Mario 64. Others saw echoes of the Teletubbies set in its green-turfed slopes.

After an internal review, Westminster council said it “must learn the lessons of the Mound project” after it had a “lack of sufficient oversight” that led to failings.

The Mound is due to be deconstructed which will take up to four months and the trees and plants will be reused.

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