With lockdown sucking the life from the nation’s high streets, nobody could accuse bosses warning of lasting economic scarring of making mountains out of molehills.
Yet this is the brainwave of one London council – which has revealed plans to plant an enormous hill by Oxford Street to coax tourists back to the West End this summer.
Dubbed the Marble Arch Mound, it will tower at 82ft and promises Londoners sweeping views for six months between summer and Christmas.
The temporary mound is the centrepiece of a blueprint drawn up by Westminster Council to jump start tourism when restrictions are eased.
Dubbed the Marble Arch Mound, it will tower at 82ft and promises Londoners with sweeping views for six months between summer and Christmas (artist’s design)
The mound is the centrepiece of a master-plan drawn up by Westminster Council to jump start tourism when restrictions are eased (artist’s design)
A wider £150million ‘fightback’ strategy to regenerate Oxford Street with pop-up parks, more pedestrian space and ‘green projects’ was unveiled today.
It is believed to place emphasis on al fresco dining, which ministers will likely allow first as part of lockdown lifting.
Boris Johnson is set to unveil his roadmap to cautiously lift lockdown on February 22 and is expected to make announcements on non-essential retail and hospitality.
Westminster Council chiefs are hoping that curbs are loosened enough for them to welcome visitors to the mound.
Subject to planning approval, they believe the hill will be climbed by 200,000 people, who will likely have to pay a small nominal charge.
No exact cost has been calculated, although a spokesperson said it will run to ‘hundreds of thousands of pounds’.
Council leader Rachael Robathan said: ‘Our proposed Marble Arch Hill temporary visitor attraction at Marble Arch signifies our ambitious approach to the District. It will be important for bringing in visitors to support the local economy.’
She hailed the West End as the ‘engine of the London economy’ but warned it had been hard hit by the pandemic.
They want the hill to be climbed by 200,000 people, who will likely have to pay a small nominal charge (artist’s design)
Westminster Council chiefs are hoping that curbs are loosened enough for them to welcome visitors to the mound (artist’s design)
Footfall on high streets across Britain plummeted during the three national lockdowns and starved firms of revenue.
What else will the £150m Oxford St development include?
- Extended footways for pedestrians
- Increase in plants and green areas
- Bright banners to ‘create a sense of place and aesthetic continuity’
- ‘Urban theatres’ for outdoor performances, kitted out with lighting
- Pop-up restaurants
- More electric charging points
- Zero-carbon retrofitting of heritage buildings
- Trial installations
- Remove unnecessary signage
Covid was especially bruising for tourist hubs like West End, which is predominantly non-essential retail, hospitality and theatres.
The West End employs 10 per cent of all Londoners and youth unemployment in the Westminster has increased 175 per cent.
Westminster Council insists the cost to build the mound is justified and that funding will come from the Capital Budget which has been earmarked for the Oxford Street development and will not divert cash from day-to-day vital services.
On the wider redevelopment, the Council says that work will begin ‘within weeks’.
It will include ‘additional pedestrian space, pop up parks, new lighting, landscaping, greening projects and cultural space’.
There are no plans to close Oxford Street and the Council does not believe the mound will affect the rough sleepers in Marble Arch.
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive at New West End Company, which represents 600 business in the area, said: ‘The launch of Westminster City Council’s £150million Oxford Street District transformation is a huge milestone as central London starts its recovery.
‘The past 12 months have been the toughest on record for businesses on Oxford Street and the surrounding area, and these ambitious plans are a sign of a forward thinking, sustainable and agile future for the district, creating an altogether stronger and more exciting high street that caters to the needs of the ever-evolving consumer.’
Kay Buxton, chief executive of Marble Arch London BID, said: ‘We are proud to be working with Westminster City Council to create a truly unique and once in a lifetime opportunity to see London from a completely new perspective.
‘Marble Arch Hill is a clarion call to the recovery of London’s hospitality and leisure sector, in an enduring, world-renowned destination.’