The Mayor of London’s office has rubber stamped the planning application for the Garden Bridge – but has ensured it is rejected by Westminster Council after Boris Johnson refused to underwrite the £3.5m annual running costs.
Westminster Council agreed to approve the Garden Bridge earlier in December, on condition that TfL (or another public body) underwrite the punishingly high maintenance costs. Without this guarantee Cllr Robert Davis, Chair of Planning at Westminster, made clear that the bridge could not be built. But in response to questioning from Caroline Pidgeon at City Hall last week Boris refused to provide such a guarantee.
At £175m for construction, the Garden Bridge is 7 times more expensive than a normal pedestrian bridge, and 60 times more expensive as the highest quality parks in London. Supposedly funded by private donation, so far the Garden Bridge Trust has only managed to announce donations of £3m from Citigroup, the Trust’s bankers. However £64m of public money has been pledged by George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Boris Johnson, despite the fact that this will be a private bridge and there will be no public right of way.
There are piles of other issues and conditions to be resolved before the project could be progressed, including how the bridge will be operated, times of opening, and how to manage the expected queues of up to 5,000 people an hour – the Bridge only has capacity for 2,500 people. Lambeth Council has also insisted that toilets are provided to serve the 7 million visitors expected each year.
But local critics are deeply concerned about the absence of any crowd management strategy at what would be the most popular visitor attraction in the UK. Backers of the scheme including Transport for London admit that pedestrians will be “extremely uncomfortable” at times, but residents fear that at pinch points sometimes only 5 metres wide there could be a serious danger of crushing, with people forced into the river. Bizarrely, the police were not consulted about how the crowds will be managed.
There has also been stinging criticism from St Paul’s Cathedral, whose views are supposed to be protected but will be obliterated from many points such as along Waterloo Bridge and on the South Bank or even on the Garden Bridge itself. Meanwhile the Temple – home of the UK’s barristers – have written to Lambeth and Westminster accusing them of acting illegally in approving the plans. Local residents are also considering a judicial review over the mishandling of the planning