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After a year still keep an eye on London

2006-04-30 11:09

  How the London Eye keeps popping into vision: clockwise, rising above skyscrapers as seen from the West End, on the skyline of Southwark, over the rooftops of Waterloo and looking along Downing Street.

  IT WAS built to give tourists a better view of London. But today, as its first year comes full circle, the London Eye is celebrated as a view in itself.

  Among Londoners, the 443ft wheel has developed a reputation for suddenly appearing in vision from around the city, from points as scattered as Whitehall, the Elephant and Castle, Greenwich Park and the West Way in Kensington.

  “It just pops up into the horizon when you are not expecting it,” said Heather Burton, who works in the Eye's press office. “I quite often see it just driving around Dulwich.”

  Peter Ackroyd, author of London: The Biography, enjoys viewing it from afar. “I like it from a distance where you just see a curve above the rooftops,” he said. “It is universally liked. I hope it remains a permanent landmark.”

  Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, has asked that the balloons be released today to mark the anniversary. The official, commercial opening had been delayed by technical problems that could have made the wheel seem as unlucky as a certain other millennium structure in Greenwich. Instead, it has turned out to be so popular that even taxi drivers respect it.

  “It could have been a terrible eyesore, but it has worked,” said Bob Oddie, General Secretary of the London Taxi Drivers' Association. “Everyone wants to see it. The reaction from visitors is invariably favourable, and I've never met a London cabbie who didn't like it.”

  So far 3.5 million visitors have boarded the wheel. It has planning permission for five years, but its success means that it could become an enduring part of the landscape.

  Detractors criticise its position. Simon Jenkins, former Editor of The Times and a Millennium Commissioner, wanted it in Battersea. “It should have been somewhere where it does not tower crudely over historic buildings, and where it can draw people away from the crowded central zone.”

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