Garden Bridge: A Local Victory
We Londoners are used to seeing changes taking place across the city every day, and we have been witness to many bolder development projects in London – both good and bad. The proposal for a Garden Bridge was an ill-conceived attempt at being bold.It was contentious, unwanted, and unnecessary.
While the Garden Bridge Trust – a charity created to oversee the project – presented the bridge as “a stunning oasis of tranquillity in the heart of our city”, residents had understandable concerns about it. The plan was to accommodate 2,500 visitors in a confined space, along with a Disney-style queuing system on a busy river walk. Activists took on politicians and celebrity proponents of the garden bridge, such as actress Joanna Lumley, who devised the proposal for “peaceful garden floating above the Thames”. Campaigners raised genuine concerns about the lack of public consultation and procurement processes besides the enormous cost to the public purse.
The Garden Bridge was initially costed at £60m in 2012 but the figure rapidly rose to £185m in 2015. The Trust secured £60m of public funding but only £69m of private money, leaving it far short of the £200m final cost. Despite this, the Garden Bridge Trust signed a construction contract in March 2016 despite the fact it had no rights to build on either side of the river, insufficient construction funding and none of the three public guarantees required by planning permission.
Garden Bridge Trust ChairLordMervyn Davies said that the project would provide “a beautiful new green space in the heart of London, free to use and open to all”, and that it would “showcase the best of British talent and innovation.” However, the bridge’s manufactured parts were made in Italy and the construction company was French.The bridge would also have been closed for 12 days a year in addition to public holidays and special occasions. There was to be a credit card-style reader at either end for ‘voluntary donations’ which made a mockery of it being “free and open to all.”
While things seemed to be progressing, albeit slowly, the bridge faced strong opposition from locals who questioned whether another bridge was really needed within 200m ofWaterloo Bridgeand600m ofBlackfriars Bridge. With government cuts hitting health care, libraries, and education, why should such an enormous amount of money be spent on something that was neither a proper bridge nor a garden?Serious safety concerns were overlooked and environmentally the bridge would have been an eco-disaster, with over 15,000 tonnes of concrete clad in Glencore mined metals being used to construct the bridge.
Although the project offered to plant more than 270 trees and 2,000 shrubs and climbing plants on the bridge, it would have destroyed 38 trees, most of which are on the south side having been planted as a memorial to civilians killed in World WarII.The land on the South Bank that the Garden Bridge needed is leased to Coin Street Community Builders from Lambeth Council, and was left to the people of London who do not have a garden – therefore the Garden Bridge would have privatised one of the last remaining public green spaces along the riverside.Due to these concerns, a local group called Thames Central Open Spaces (TCOS)started a petition to cancel the project. It gathered over 23,000 signatures from all over the world.
Over three years, TCOS lobbied politicians, London Assembly members, journalists, celebrities, and key organisations such as the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee and instigated several investigations into the Garden Bridge Trust and its sponsor Transport for London’s highly questionable practices.
The efforts of local campaigners finally won the support of London Mayor Sadiq Khan. The Garden Bridge Trust, the charity that was overseeing the £200m project, said it was scrapping the plans after London Mayor Sadiq Khan refused to sign off the costs of maintaining the bridge.
Truly, a local victory.