Cover-up with a mound of issues

Internal review of £6m Marble Arch project ‘raises more questions’

Friday, 22nd October

Marble Arch mound 1

SENIOR council officers covered up “critical” issues undermining the Marble Arch Mound project, a report has revealed.

An internal review, published by the city council this week, said there had been “several failings” in the botched £6million tourist attraction flop.

Critics have warned that the report, from under-fire chief executive Stuart Love, has raised more questions than it answered.
The review admitted there was a “breakdown of project management” for the mound but claimed none “occurring elsewhere in the council”.

Relationships between Westminster’s cabinet members and senior department managers are being probed after “checks and balances were circumvented”.

The review said: “In order to meet the cost expectation the review found evidence that the senior officers responsible for the project descoped and omitted critical elements of the Marble Arch Mound project. At the same time income estimates were revised upwards with no evidence provided to support these assumptions.”

Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg

The council had estimated 250,000 tourists would pay to scale the hollow hill and added sponsorship would cover the costs of what was originally billed as a £2million project.

But the scheme was beset by problems including turf and foliage sliding off the hill in high winds and promised panoramic views failing to materialise.

Embarrassment from the mound has meant that the total £6million costs are expected to be met by the taxpayer.

The Extra understands city council chiefs have launched a new revenue-raising drive in a bid to recoup the cash.

Questions are also being asked about the effectiveness of the city’s planning committee which waved through the project despite its chair suggesting it was “possibly absolutely bonkers”.

The opposition Labour group said this week the review had failed properly to probe the involvement of the leader of the council and the cabinet in the “appalling catalogue of mistakes”.

Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg said: “The basic lack of financial control on this major project is a stark warning to residents that the Conservatives have failed to manage public money properly. It is costing council tax payers around £150,000 a month to keep the mound open, when this money could be better spent on services for young people and the elderly.”

The review will be debated at a council scrutiny committee on Wednesday. Labour say they will be asking for more detail on why the mound was opened before it was ready, why finances were mismanaged, and why governance was so bad for this scheme in particular.

The review said: “There was a breakdown of project management of the mound which, among other issues, led to confusion over roles and responsibilities, a lack of communication between staff and contractors working on different elements of the Marble Arch Mound project and a basic lack of project co-ordination and documentation. This fundamental project failure meant that the cabinet members and other senior officers were unaware of project progress. This contributed to the mismanagement of costs and the lack of control over cost increases significantly beyond those approved”.

It added: “The mound opened before the project was completed because of insufficient rigour in managing the project. It ran significantly over the agreed budget for the project. The review has found no evidence to suggest that the problems associated with the mound have occurred or are occurring elsewhere in the council.”

• This week the city’s Rachael Robathan has been nominated for the “council leader of the year” in the Local Government Information Unit’s annual awards.

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