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A whole heap of trouble for Westminster Council

Green Party community campaigner Fabian Frenzel says there are lessons to be learned from the Marble Arch mound

Extinction Rebellion take over Marble Arch

The opening of the ‘Marble Arch Mound’ arguably did not go as Westminster Council, which commissioned the project, and the architects MVRDV, who realised it, would have hoped. Within days Londoners had collectively put their thumbs down. When I first saw it, I have to admit, I was also underwhelmed.

Not only does the Mound look a lot less impressive in reality than what was promised. It also seems to be beset with problems, not having been finished in time for its launch at the end of July. In crisis mode, Westminster council decided to waive the ticket cost (£4.50 per person) for the month of August and will refund those who already bought them.  Now the deputy leader of Westminster council, Melvyn Caplan, has resigned in light of the spiralling costs of the unloved project, which stand at £6million.

In principle, the idea of the Mound is not a bad one. The council hopes to revive the blighted Oxford Street and the wider West End after the pandemic. By creating a visitor attraction with the Mound, more people may be enticed to visit the surrounding streets.

The Mound also wanted to be a green statement: the makers MVRDV claim it is almost fully re-useable (scaffolding holds the structure up and the decorative turf and trees can be used in gardens and parks). Aesthetically, MVRDV aims for the Mount to reconnect Marble Arch to Hyde Park. It has been ‘disconnected’ ever since 1960, when urban planners thought little of green spaces and plastered a multi-lane roundabout over Speakers Corner, creating a traffic island with the Marble Arch in its middle.

Sadly, the Mound does not actually re-green any road space. It sits on the traffic island, which pedestrians and cyclists can only cross by daring death on the busy roads. It does not have to be like this: remember when Extinction Rebellion occupied the streets around Marble Arch in Spring 2019 and erected a camp on the site of where the Mound sits now?

XR achieved all the Marble Arch Mound wants to do, and certainly with a much smaller budget. For a few days in April, Marble Arch was once again connected to Hyde Park. The usually noisy and polluted place was filled with life. Kids drew on the multi-lane roads. 

As for the businesses on Oxford Street: they benefit from what Greens have demanded for decades: a pedestrianised, liveable urban space, which is healthy and fun to be in. 

Many Londoners agreed. See this article from the Evening Standard.

Here’s the real lesson from the Marble Arch Mound saga: Oxford Street should be car-free in its entirety, extending the planned part-pedestrianising of Oxford Circus all the way up to Marble Arch. This will bring back healthy streets, and that is what will bring people back into the city. And while we are at it, we should also be linking the park back to Marble Arch by closing the road that separates them. We do not need to raise a mountain to do so, just some common sense.

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