A damning report into the failures of the Marble Arch Mound has found that it suffered from a host of management failures and a deliberate attempt to conceal its rising costs from the council members.

Announced in February 2021, the Mound was to be part of a wider £150 million project to revamp the West End and lure people back into the centre of London.

The mound was supposed to cost £2 million to design, build and remove — plus £0.5 million for permanent improvements in the area, but those costs jumped to £5.2 million, and with operating costs included, the total came in at around £6 million.

Opened before it was ready, the paucity of planting on the mound quickly drew widespread criticism and plans to charge for tickets to climb the mound had to be scrapped.

Mound on 30th July 2021

Following the resignation of Westminster Council’s deputy leader, Melvyn Caplan in August, the council commissioned a review into what went so badly wrong. The report that’s now been published said that the failures of managing the Mound project were both “avoidable” and “particularly devastating”.

In its findings, the report found that the Mound suffered from a failure of project management to keep it on target for its opening date and that the costs of the project were mismanaged and misrepresented by the project managers. They particularly note a breakdown in the project management which caused confusion as to who was responsible for what.

The report adds that a number of the council’s normal checks and measures to ensure problems don’t occur were “circumvented to facilitate the timetable and in order to obscure the actual costs for delivering the Mound”.

It seems that problems with the costs were known as early as May 2021, but were hidden by being disbursed into other budgets and not attributed to the Mound, such as shifting contract costs into the Highways budget. The project team also omitted critical elements from the project to try and meet the budget allocated, while raising the expected income from visitors without any good reason to have done so. They also didn’t include the full costs of removing the Mound after its planned closure next January.

The critical elements for the Mound were put back in later, but without the budget authority to spend money on them.

Although it seems that the project team tried to hide the problems from the Executive Director of Growth, Planning and Housing, the council director was also not proactive in keeping an eye on what was going on.

Apart from the efforts by the project managed to conceal the costs and delays, the council was criticised for trying to rush through the project without enough time to seek multiple tenders for the construction of the Mound. This lack of competing bids meant that some of the risks in delivering the project that might have been highlighted by bidders in the tendering process were not uncovered.

In the end though, the Mound opened before it was completed because of insufficient rigour in managing the project, leading to the famous litany of articles in the news about how awful it looked.

In addition to the huge overspend on the Mound, the decision not to charge and offer free tickets means that they’ve lost out on an estimated £1.5 million in revenue, and the poor publicity has cost them £290,000 in lost sponsorship.

Stuart Love, Westminster City Council Chief Executive said that “The report is clear on two points. First, that our processes are robust but, in this case, those processes were circumvented – driven by the desire to open the Mound as soon as possible. This is unacceptable, and we are taking action to address these findings.”

Although the Mound was massively over budget and in the first couple of months after it opened, still incomplete, it has still managed to attract 140,000 visitors since it opened — which means they are actually on target for the expected 280,000 visitors that the Mound was expecting over the full six months it will be open.

So although it’s been a hideously expensive and reputationally damaging way of attracting people to visit this part of London, it has delivered on the key thing it was designed to do – it brought a lot of people to Marble Arch.

I have noted previously, that while not what was planned, it’s still reasonably fun to visit, and the recent addition of the light exhibition inside the Mound, also delivered late, has added to its appeal.

Mound on 17th August 2021

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9 comments
  1. Mark Pack says:

    Having visited the Mound myself, I think it’s key problem isn’t so much the foliage as its height. It’s lower than some of the surrounding buildings, which means the views are hugely less impressive than if it was taller than them. I wonder if enough thought was given to its height in the planning stage as it’s quite a big ask to make the view from the top of something impressive when it’s surrounded by taller items.

  2. Brian Butterworth says:

    For some reason I assumed your “fun day out” was a freebie as you wrote it up on this popular blog?

    • ianVisits says:

      The Mound was free for everyone at the time I wrote my review – and has been free ever since.

  3. ChrisC says:

    When I first saw your post about this in February I thought this was a private project but still thought it was a stupid idea.

    But I am aghast that millions of public money has been wasted so egregiously with so little accountability – other than one councillor resigning his cabinet post but he’s still a councillor.

    Yes people came to Marble Arch to see it but did they then spend money in the shops or having a coffee or a beer or did they just go home again? If they did what was the extra spend in the area? Remember such extra economic activity does not flow back to the council coffers so there is no sharing of the gain.

    How was it possible for council staff to do what they did such as using other budgets to hide the costs from senior staff and councillors? That’s not really addressed in the report but there is a line in para 32

    “The Council has an excellent record of delivering to a high standard and within the agreed budget”

    Well not now they don’t.

    I bet they are now thinking that hanging up some bunting, putting on some entertainment or handing out discount vouchers for the shops and businesses in the area would have been a better idea.

  4. Brian Armitage says:

    Processes are not robust if they can be circumvented.

    • Chris Rogers says:

      I was thinking the same thing. As summarised here some of what happened could be caught be various criminal offences, it seems to me.

  5. Robert Harris says:

    Yes I went up it, really because it was there, and it was OK-ish but definitely not worth paying for.

    The salutary point to emerge relates to local authority mismanagement of ring-fenced funding, and how easy it was for council members to be bypassed and internal auditors duped. And this in a council widely believed to be one of London’s smartest.

    One other point: talk of 280,000 visitors being a target doesn’t mean they would have come especially to go up the mound, and then spend some money in M&S or Primark. Surely in almost all cases it would have been the other way round?

    But it’s the financial management issue that’s a lot more important than a lump of soil next to Marble Arch, and that’s concerning if not wholly surprising.

  6. RonU says:

    £6 million on that!? If they really wanted to bring visitors to the area, they could’ve installed small free coffee/beer/cider/smoothie stalls along Oxford street. That would definately bring more than 280,000 people to the area and still would end up cheaper than this mound monstrosity.

  7. Janine says:

    What stupid idiots agreed to pay six million pounds for the mount those agreeing to it should be ridiculed and put in prison!
    What conmen thought of it

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