£6m tourist attraction became international laughing stock
MVRDV’s much-derided Marble Arch Mound has claimed its first scalp, with the resignation of the deputy leader of Westminster council.
Mervyn Caplan was the councillor who led the project which was conceived as a way of encouraging shoppers and tourists back to Oxford Street after the pandemic decimated the West End economy.
Instead the 25m-tall artificial hill became an international laughing stock and costs have almost doubled to £6m.
Caplan resigned last night and the council has launched an internal investigation to “understand what went wrong and ensure it never happens again”.
Original projected costs were £3.3m but have now risen to £6m, the council admitted in a statement.
Westminster’s leader, Rachel Robathan, said: “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.”
The Mound is part of the council’s wider £150m investment in the Oxford Street district. Footfall in Oxford Street is still 54% below pre-pandemic levels and nearly a fifth of shops on “the nation’ high street” have shut, said the council.
For comparison the council said footfall was down 15% in Greater London and had broadly recovered in the south east.
The Mound was intended to be an Instagramable attraction that would lure people back to the West End in large numbers to enjoy the views from the top.
But it opened to a swathe of scathing press coverage and social media posts which showed patchy planting and the promised views of Oxford Street and Hyde Park obscured by trees and buildings. It was dubbed “a slippery slope to nowhere” and likened to the blocky landscapes of a low-fi video game. Visitors complained and were offered refunds on the ticket prices that for adults cost up to £8.
MVRDV, the celebrated Rotterdam-based architect behind the project, has declined to comment officially but founding partner Winy Maas told the Guardian before the opening that he was “fully aware that it needs more substance” and explained that a heatwave had hit the plants. “I think it still opens people’s eyes and prompts an intense discussion. It’s OK for it to be vulnerable,” he said.
The attraction will now be free for the whole of August.
Cllr Rachel Robathan’s full statement
Central London has a battle on its hands. Having suffered 18 months of the pandemic, we have to get people back into the city. Currently, visitor numbers remain significantly down and that has severe implications for a Westminster economy that hosts more than one in eight jobs in London and creates billions for the rest of the country. What happens in Westminster really does matter to the UK as a whole.
The Mound is a small part of the Council’s wider £150m investment in the Oxford Street District, designed to reinvigorate the nation’s high street. This is a critical investment, and will support London and the UK to build back better, helping unlock over £2bn of additional economic value by 2030.
The Mound is also one initiative in a wider campaign, Westminster Reveals, designed to bring the buzz and footfall back to London. We’ve developed an exciting programme of events spanning galleries, theatres, art trials and free shows. The Inside Out arts festival started this week and we have the hugely popular West End Live weekend which draws hundreds of thousands of people to Trafalgar Square to look forward to in September.
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. Our original forecast cost was £3.3m. 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. We have also instigated a thorough internal review to understand what went wrong and ensure it never happens again.
Tickets are now free for August. We are working hard to deliver a new exhibition space and make sure the 130 steps climb to the top is the best experience it can be, with a café for a drink and snack at the bottom.
We are determined to continue our hard work to restore our city’s vibrancy, bring back visitors and ensure people can keep their jobs. Doing nothing was never an option. So when the Mound fully reopens in September, I hope that people will come and see it for themselves. The Mound may delight or divide views and that’s ok, but we’re confident that in the end it will fulfil its original brief - to get people back into the West End and remind them of why this is a world class city.