Proposals for a ‘Garden Bridge’ were one vote away from defeat last night, when Lambeth councillors split 4 votes to 3 on a motion to refuse planning permission.
With interventions from celebrity backers Joanna Lumley and Thomas Heatherwick, the planning application was eventually approved, but with a long list of 46 conditions which must come back to Lambeth’s planning committee for a final decision in 2015.
Moves from councillors to refuse the application came after TCOS objectors raised a series of issues including
Congestion and crowd management problems, with 7 million visitors annually creating “very uncomfortable” conditions for pedestrians according to Transport for London’s analysis
Loss of historic protected views of St Paul’s from the South Bank and Waterloo Bridge
Lack of adequate facilities including toilets
Commercialisation and clutter on the South Bank
The Bridge is expected to draw bigger crowds than any tourist attraction in the UK and will rival Paris Disneyland, which receives 9 million visitors annually. But objectors revealed that no crowd safety and control analysis had been undertaken, and the police had not been consulted. One objector warned that at nearby pinch points at the Oxo tower there was the danger of people becoming trapped or crushed.
The Temple, home to the UK’s top barristers, lodged a last minute objection stating that any decision to approve the scheme at this stage by Lambeth council would be illegal, and reserved their position to initiate legal proceedings.
The Garden Bridge Trust set up by Lumley and Heatherwick, claimed that the bridge would be financed privately, but Boris Johnson and George Osborne have pledged £60m of public cash, and a further £30m subsidy through VAT relief is possible. The current building cost is £175m and TfL have already spent £4m bringing the about the project.
A £3m donation from the Trust’s bankers, Citigroup, will not even cover a year’s management and maintenance costs of £3.5m. If the cash cannot be found Lambeth Council could end sharing the bills with the London Mayor.
Committee members chose to ignore these warnings and approve the scheme subject to a range of conditions. But they left themselves in a weak negotiating position. In contrast Westminster Council have refused to approve the application until all outstanding issues are resolved.
TCOS spokesperson Wai-King Cheung said “With 22 visitor attractions and the largest arts centre in Europe, the South Bank does not need another attraction, let alone the largest in the UK. Visitors will be jostled and crushed in an area already heaving with tourists. The thousands of local residents, many in social housing, will have their lives blighted. One of Europe’s great promenades and riverscapes will be lost forever – for a luvvies folly which provides less than half a football pitch of green open space. We look forward to a legal challenge being mounted against Lambeth’s half-baked decision”.
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