Senior officials expressed concerns over the direction of the Oxford Street District programme including the Marble Arch Mound, a new report has said.
The independent review, conducted by Mike Cooke, the former Camden borough Chief Executive, also concluded that the Marble Arch Mound distracted from the delivery of the rest of the £150 million scheme.
Oxford Street District was the name given by the then Conservative run Westminster Council to a series of public realm and greening improvements to Europe’s busiest high street and the surrounding areas, including pavement widening and the Soho Photography Quarter.
The review said: “Having interviewed a number of Oxford Street District Programme team at the time, it is clear that the council’s own resource was moved from the wider programme in order to concentrate on first progressing the proposals for the Mound visitor attraction and then to deal with the well documented issues associated with it, that arose.
“This had a direct effect on the council’s ability to progress wider works within the overall programme.”
It further mentioned that staff had spoken to the scheme’s programme director, Elad Eisenstein, about the lack of detail relating to the Mound, with bosses unaware of the slow progress in other parts of the project. It described governance arrangements as ‘light touch’.
It said: “They had been concerned about the analysis and detail behind the Mound proposals and apparently had advised the then Programme Director against the proposal.
“It now also seems that during that time the senior officer or officers with day-to-day responsibilities for the Oxford St District Programme failed to report comprehensively and accurately on the progress of the wider Oxford St District programme which meant that the Executive Leadership Team were not aware of the scale of the lack of progress and the need for intervention.
Cooke’s report also said that council bosses should have delayed some of the improvements until later in the pandemic.
A total of £28 million was spent on the programme up until July 2022, £6 million of which went towards the Mound, which attracted widespread criticism for its lack of greenery, with the council refunding visitors days after the attraction opened in July 2021. It was eventually dismantled in January 2022.
But the review suggested that money may have been saved on indirect costs such as consultations and communication had projects been delivered faster and simultaneously.
It said: “It has not proved possible to ascertain whether such elements could have been undertaken at a lower cost for the same benefit. Also, it may be the case that the unit costs of the work completed would have been lower had there been more delivery progress in terms of a higher number of projects delivered, by the overhead costs being spread over more projects.”
Image: George Henson.