Marble Arch Mound: anger at ‘top-down’ Tories

Groups slam ‘unacceptable spin’ after £6m project debacle

Friday, 20th August 2021 — By Tom Foot

Marble Arch mound 1

The Marble Arch Mound

A COALITION of Westminster’s most influential neighbourhood groups has warned the root cause of the Marble Arch Mound fiasco was the council’s top-down approach to local government.

The Westminster Amenity Societies Forum (WASF) said residents and councillors were routinely sidelined by a “small number of people at the top of the ­council” who prioritised the economy over the public interest.

The combination of “futile consultations” and “unacceptable spin” had led to a democratic void that has left residents without a voice.

In a stinging letter to council leader Rachael Robathan, WASF chair Richard Cutt said: “It is our unanimous view that throughout the Covid crisis, the council has remained too close to landlords and business. As a result of this close relationship, the council are unduly focused on maintaining the prominence of the West End.”

The letter was sent to all councillors on Tuesday following the resignation of the council’s deputy leader who was in charge of the botched mound project.

The mound is just a small part of a council-funded £150million revamp of Oxford Street District (OSD) that the WASF said has been cast into doubt by the mound bungling. Costs trebled and the flagship attraction was forced to close a day after a rushed opening.

Mr Cutt’s letter, representing 18 of the most influential groups in Westminster, said “The mound appeared to emerge from a single consultant’s suggestion that was then pushed forward by those running the OSD project. It has almost no support except from New West End Company and Marble Arch Bid. It was introduced at the spur of the moment by a few people at the top of the council.

“This top-driven appr­oach has proved to have failed… This very unfortunate outcome could have been avoided. Will this be the only debacle?”

The letter went on saying that most residents felt consultations “are futile and a box-ticking exercise” and that “unacceptable spin” was put on planning presentations by council officers.

It added a “number of long-standing residents have already left Soho” because of the al fresco dining hoohah and called for an immediate halt to plans to create a pedestrian-friendly piazza around Oxford Circus.

It also warned that Experimental Traffic Orders, part of a planning loophole that allows councils to introduce road safety schemes without proper consultation. ETOs were used extensively during Covid to make more space for pedestrians and cyclists to socially distance. But some could now be made permanent.

“The Covid crisis has been used to implement plans that would never normally have been considered, often to the detriment of residents in the West End who have endured these changes for the greater good during the pandemic,” the letter said.

Responding, Cllr Roba-than said: “This council exists to serve its residents, and that is why we seek the views of local people before taking any major decisions. Consultation is the cornerstone of our approach. For example, we only went ahead with temporary al fresco dining with the support of residents. We have met amenity societies regularly to discuss plans for the Oxford Street District, and told them nothing will be taken forward without a detailed consultation.

“This £150million project is a key driver for visitors and London’s economy, but the council is clear it has to benefit local people as well as businesses – amenity societies and residents’ groups are there to provide that guidance.”

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