London's Marble Arch Mound: council leader resigns after costs rise to £6m

Westminster council apologises after widely mocked attraction 'opened too early'

The deputy leader of a central London council has resigned over increasing costs of a temporary attraction designed to draw people back to what was one of the UK capital's busiest tourist areas.

The Marble Arch Mound was opened by Conservative-led Westminster City Council on July 26 to encourage more footfall to the world-famous Oxford Street shopping district after local businesses suffered a Covid-related downturn.

But the project faced criticism shortly after opening and was forced to offer refunds to disappointed customers who paid £4.50 to £8 ($6 to $11) per ticket to scale to the top of a 25-metre viewing platform.

On Thursday, it was revealed that costs for the hill had risen to £6m ($8.2m), more than double the original estimate.

Westminster council’s leader, Rachael Robathan, she had accepted the resignation of her deputy Melvyn Caplan "with regret" and apologised for the mishandling of the project.

“The mound opened too early and we have apologised for that,” she said.

“It has become clear that costs have risen more than anticipated and that is totally unacceptable. Our original forecast 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.”

Ms Robathan said the council would press on with the "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," she said. "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.”

The Labour Party said the project exposed the "hubris, incompetence and unaccountability" of the council administration and demanded an immediate suspension of other major projects in the area.

The mound, planned by the Dutch architects MVRDV, was designed to provide views of Oxford Street, Hyde Park, Mayfair and Marylebone.

The council announced on Friday that tickets to the temporary mound, which is due to remain open until January 2022, would be free for the rest of August.

Updated: August 13, 2021, 10:56 AM