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Controversy over London’s next Iconic Landmark: The London Garden Bridge

It’s not a bridge, it’s not a park, it’s a unique green corridor in the heart of London designed to offer pedestrians a scenic and tranquil route across the river Thames. Situated in the heart of London and connecting two bustling areas from the South Bank to Temple, this 367-meter structure will feature wildlife-friendly tree and plant species with 1.5 acres designated to plant 270 trees and 100,000 plants, bulbs and shrubs. The £175million bridge will provide environmental benefits, attract 3 million new visitors to the local area every year, and will add to London’s rich and diverse heritage of horticulture. 

Construction is to begin in Spring 2016, with the bridge opening to the public in 2018. Lead designers of this project, Heatherwick Studios, will bring life to Joanna Lumley’s vision of a Garden Bridge, with Arup leading the engineers, design team and technical specialists. Dan Pearson, Observer columnist and winner of the best show garden at the Chelsea Flower Show is to design the garden layout. In the words of Robert Davis, Deputy leader of Westminster Council, "This is something that is iconic and absolutely unique, and will be recognised right across the world”. 

So why all the public annoyance towards this project? According to an Evening Standard poll, 60% of 3,000 voters do not back the bridge, in addition to numerous parties opposing its construction.

Dubbed by civil engineers as the most expensive footpath in the world, much debate has been raised over the necessity of the Garden Bridge and whether it’s an actual transport priority. Situated between Blackfriars and Waterloo bridge, this area is well served by Thames crossings with 10 bridges already covering the two-mile stretch between Westminster and London Bridge, seven of which are used by pedestrians. Furthermore, as picturesque as the bridge will be, concerns were raised by heritage groups over the potential loss of historic views, for example St. Paul’s Cathedral will be in restricted sight, and from ground level the Garden Bridge will dominate views. 

The allocation of funds towards this £175million infrastructure project has also been a cause for concern. Bridge consultant Simon Bourne told BBC London that the cost is "five to ten times more than you'd expect a footbridge to be". £60million of public funds will be invested into the scheme, with an additional £10million from Transport for London (TfL) and £30m from Treasury funds. The balance will be funded by private donors, and the bridge will require a £3.5million annual maintenance bill. The £60million of public funds would otherwise suffice the latest cuts on children’s mental health services, and in comparison, the Millennium Bridge cost £22m entirely to build.
In addition to the cost of building the Garden Bridge with the intent to “achieve the highest environmental standards”, over 30 mature trees along the Southbank will need to be destroyed, and ample gardens already exist along this stretch of the Thames. The cost of the project could also fund 30 new London parks, or 30 times the amount of open space the bridge would provide, according to Michael Ball, director of the Waterloo Community Development Group. Furthermore, from a global environmental perspective, the £175m would be sufficient to secure 70 million acres of virgin rainforest land in Sumatra, Western Indonesia, and if each acre has the capacity for 400 trees, theoretically 28 billion trees could be saved for the same cost as 270 trees and 100,000 plants on the Garden Bridge.

Above the controversy over the necessity and funding of the Garden bridge, the fact that it will remain private land means there will be stricter rules for the public to adhere to. It will be closed overnight and once a month for corporate events, and an “enhanced” CCTV system will monitor that the following (to list a few) prohibited activities do not take place:

It will not serve cyclists unless their bikes are pushed over the bridge
No exercise (other than jogging) is allowed
Musical instruments cannot be played
Taking part in a “gathering of any kind”
Giving a speech or address
Scattering ashes
Releasing a balloon
Flying a kite

Despite the list of “don’ts”, the Garden Bridge Trust insists that its purpose is to create a free environment with a sense of intimacy for Londoners to enjoy on their daily commute to work, and that the rules are in place simply to ensure that standards of conduct are met to maximize this enjoyable experience.

The bridge has attracted very mixed opinions with some labelling it as a "very expensive piece of public art", whilst others have said that the Garden Bridge is a unique and innovative idea. We, along with the rest of London, will have to wait and see what the Garden Bridge will have to offer.
Co-written by Farah Mawji.
Tagged In: Technical
Recent Comments
Maintenance and operations = £2m per year and will be borne by the Trust £60m of public funds has been pledged - £30m from TfL (£20m will be treated as a loan) and £30m from Department for Transport. The remaining £115m will be raised by the Trust, so far we have raised £85m of public funds. please visit our website for more information: or email us:
Garden Bridge Trust, 27 April 2016
The Diamond Jubilee bridge, however, has planning consent, mayoral approval and vast public and local business support, has cost zero to the public thus far, has no capital grant from TfL, no grant from the Department of Transport, is a much needed infrastructure project and needs to raise £26m to be constructed - so actually less than the remaining amount that the GBT are short! Please support our efforts and find out more at:
chris medland, 27 April 2016
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