Update: Oh no!
The last we heard, Westminster Council is sticking by the Marble Arch Mound, the artificial hill at the flat end of Oxford Street that has drawn mountains of derision and few paying customers. Embattled leader Rachael Robathan has said the unhappy hump will “fully re-open” next month and “fulfil its original brief” of attracting people to the West End to “remind them of why this is a world class city”.
How might that be accomplished? What the Mound really needs is more incentive for people to climb up it – an attraction at the top to make the climb worth the fee. A caged Melvyn Caplan, Westminster’s deputy leader who resigned after the full cost of the project emerged, is one possibility. But Westminster needs to be bolder. Robathan should cry “Geronimo”.
The death row alpaca of that name has inspired just as much media coverage as the Mound during the recent summer weeks, a time of year when journalists traditionally cast about for animal interest stories and soft targets. Safely and humanely housed at the summit of MVRDV’s creation – and hopefully with grass to eat – Geronimo would pull in droves of well-wishers more than happy to spend a fiver to get up close and personal with the blameless beast that has become a national treasure, despite being an allegedly disease-ridden immigrant.
The commercial potential is enormous: merchandise could include alpaca backpacks for the 25 metre ascent and alpaca pac-a-macs, in case it rains. And could there be a more powerful way to pressure environment secretary George Eustice into making extra sure that the outcomes of the bovine TB tests that threaten an early end to Geronimo’s days were not the false positives his distressed owner suspects?
It’s just a spit up the M4 up from Bristol, where Geronimo presently resides. That’s no distance at all for the plucky camelidae who flew to the UK from New Zealand. And if the Mound turned out to be Geronimo’s final resting place, at least he would die knowing he was adored and had helped stimulate post-Covid recovery.
Of course, this ideal solution may not be forthcoming. And in the meantime, Westminster’s Conservative administration is under very heavy pressure to put down the Mound and get it over with.
A significant local business interest, having warned back in the spring that the idea did not look promising, has indicated that it would help pay for the Mound’s removal if work starts by the end of the month. And Robathan has been sent an absolutely filthy note by the influential Westminster Amenity Societies Forum, upbraiding her for a whole list of things, including being “too close to landlords and business” and for allowing too much al fresco dining in Soho, “creating extraordinarily high noise levels”.
Of the Mound, the Forum says it was “not consulted on” despite reports to the contrary and condemns it as the outcome of a “top driven approach” which has led to “international disparagement” and “made the council also look incompetent and unable to properly manage its own finances”.
Such opprobrium from residents’ bodies held by some to exert considerable power over the politics of the West End will perhaps not distress the local Labour opposition, which was delighted to gain a West End ward seat at Tory expense at the 2018 local elections and came close to doing ever better. Labour group leader Adam Hug, who has already called for an independent inquiry into the Mound following the emergence of its full £6 million price tag, now has further grounds for widening his attack.
Despite the Tories’ troubles, Labour faces a big battle trying to prise Westminster out of their hands. In 2018, they took almost an equal share of the popular vote and gained three seats compared with 2014, but the distribution of their support meant they still lost 41-19. That said, they made a by-election gain in May and will do all they can to ensure the Marble Arch debacle is still remembered come next May. Don’t expect them to hope Geronimo will gallop to Westminster’s aid.
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