MPs attack soaring costs of Diana memorial fountain

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Indy Politics

The embarrassing problems and spiralling costs that plagued the memorial fountain to Diana, Princess of Wales, have been blamed on poor management.

MPs attacked the soaring costs of the project in Hyde Park, London, which went more than £2m over budget and costs £250,000 a year to maintain.

Members of the Commons Public Accounts Committee criticised the Department for Culture, Media and Sport yesterday after costs rose from £3m to £5.2m and said that the annual estimated cost of maintenance had doubled.

They warned that cash to run the fountain was being siphoned away from other parks after the Royal Parks Agency was left to manage the memorial, and demanded that lessons be learned for the proposals to design a memorial to the Queen Mother.

The fountain, designed by the American sculptor Kathryn Gustafson, has been embroiled in controversy since it was forced to close due to flooding a day after it was formally opened by the Queen in July 2004.

When a woman and her son were injured while paddling, environmental engineers blamed algae growing on the stonework. The fountain was closed for five months at the start of last year while adjustments were carried out.

Edward Leigh, the Conservative chairman of the committee, branded the memorial "ill-conceived and ill-executed". He said: "This so-called water feature will be a drain on the resources of the Royal Parks Agency for years to come. This is a typical example of the great and good airily embarking on a prestige project which will take away money badly needed for the upkeep of national recreational facilities enjoyed by millions."

MPs said the roles of the various organisations involved in the project - the DCMS, the Royal Parks Agency, the Memorial Fountain Committee and private sector contractors - had not been clear. Their report said: "The project to build the Diana, Princess of Wales memorial fountain was poorly managed and the costs have run out of control.

"The problems with the fountain reflected basic project management failures. The fountain was a small-scale project, yet there were multiple stakeholders whose roles, responsibilities and accountability were not clear. Nor were there clear plans for managing the project risks."

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for Culture, said: "The Diana fountain is increasingly looking like a 21st century folly by "incapability Brown". He added: "While the fountain is only dribbling, taxpayers' money is gushing out of the Royal Parks' accounts. The cost of the fountain has risen and the maintenance costs are huge."

Rosa Monckton, the chairperson of the committee which chose the design of the fountain and a friend of the late princess, told the BBC the MPs "are in a long line of people trying to make their career out of the Diana factor".

She said: "It certainly wasn't ill-conceived. A lot of time and effort went into choosing the design. Whether it was ill-executed, I don't think so, but it wasn't a prerequisite of my committee to be an engineer."

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport defended the memorial. A spokesman said: "There were teething problems with the fountain, caused largely by overwhelming visitor numbers in its early days. However, these problems have been resolved fully and the fountain is now operating smoothly.

"The costs of building the memorial reflect that it is built to last, from high quality Cornish granite that will still be standing in 200 years' time."