You've Had Your Fun, But Let's Put The Garden Bridge To Bed Now

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 28 months ago
You've Had Your Fun, But Let's Put The Garden Bridge To Bed Now

Rachel Holdsworth has weighed up the arguments for and against the Garden Bridge and is left unimpressed.

Well, it's been fun. Watching the slow drip of negative information about the Garden Bridge has become something of a spectator sport for some Londoners. But with a construction start date in less than six months, it's time to stop playing and put this thing back in its box.

Let's start with the assumption that we need a pedestrian bridge between Temple and the South Bank. It's not a crazy one: the gap between Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges is about the same as that between Blackfriars and Southwark before the Millennium bridge came along. But if the purpose of a bridge is to quickly move people between two points, this bridge fails. The Garden Bridge Trust estimates it will take 12 minutes to cross — an inordinately long time, and the same amount of time you'd take to get between the two points by taking a detour via Waterloo bridge.

We recently met the Chief Executive of the Garden Bridge Trust who, despite having enthusiasm in spades, couldn't elaborate a transport need for the bridge beyond 'Waterloo bridge isn't nice to walk along' (tell that to Ray Davies) and 'it'll help open up the Strand' (an area notorious for being undervisited). It feels very much like attempting to retrofit a reason onto an idea someone (Joanna Lumley) once had. RIBA, in a document explaining the background to the bridge, says "there is no objective reasoned analysis, evidence or comparative study as to what problem is being solved or function fulfilled pre-dating the design solution".

There are so many problems with the Garden Bridge — why no provision for cyclists? Why isn't it open 24 hours a day? Why can it be closed if the Trust needs to hold a fundraising party? What will be the effect of all these people on the already crowded South Bank and the deliberately peaceful Temple Gardens? How on earth does it take 12 minutes to cross? — but the one that's becoming increasingly serious is what looks like favouritism in the selection of design and designer, and a scandalous misuse of public funds.

We outlined the background to the bridge's procurement a couple of weeks ago. Heatherwick Studio, which had been working with Joanna Lumley on the concept of a garden bridge for some years, won the tender to "help progress ideas for a new footbridge" over two much more experienced firms. Those firms outlined in detail how they would study the parameters and constraints to work out options. According to RIBA, Heatherwick Studio's submission included, rather presumptuously, its design for the Garden Bridge. Late. With cost estimates far in excess of the other bids. Yet the company still came top of TfL's scoring system — a system that nobody quite understands, because documentation has been destroyed.

Boris Johnson met Joanna Lumley and Thomas Heatherwick before the bidding process started. He even went with Heatherwick and Isabel Dedring, the Deputy Mayor for Transport, to Apple in San Francisco in an attempt to secure funds for what was then intended to be an entirely privately funded project, again before the tender process began. The Mayor has responded with bluster and insults to questions about the propriety of these meetings — which is generally what happens when he's on the back foot.

Because of course, the bridge isn't being funded privately. £60m of public money is being invested (£20m of which is now a long-term, very low interest loan). Of the £30m from the Treasury, the National Audit Office says:

George Osborne avoided official channels and Department for Transport oversight to offer Boris Johnson funding for the Garden Bridge, warning [the] project may not have been approved if normal processes had been followed.

This isn't reassuring. In fact, the whole thing stinks. There are various calls — from RIBA, the London Assembly, Kate Hoey MP, to name a few — for the process under which Heatherwick Studio won the bid to be investigated and, at least, recoup taxpayer money that has been given to the project. Frankly, the project should be iced and a more sensible pedestrian and cycling bridge be developed, one more in line with principles of constant public access and swift transportation needs. A scaled-back, elegant crossing would also cost less than the £175m needed for the Garden Bridge; a pedestrian and cycle bridge at Rotherhithe is predicted to cost around £88m, and that one has to open to allow tall ships through.

It's time to let it go.

Last Updated 15 February 2016

Continued below.

Will Jennings

Great summary, Rachel.

People can help put it back in its box here: www.afollyforlondon.co.uk/take...


We quite agree. The team that bought you the Olympic legacy and its aftermath of over £275m debt is also behind the Garden Bridge Trust ('trust' - a misnomer if ever there was one)
Sign the petition which alerts all key decision makers (Boris, Sadiq, Zac, council leaders etc.) that you're not happy with this private development using public money https://www.change.org/p/save-.... 10,000 signatures gets us a government response; 100k signatures makes us eligible for a Commons debate. Contribute to our fighting fund so we can challenge this in the High Court www.everyclick.com/tcos


If it was any politician other than the media's favourite teflon-coated BoJo, this would have been ripped to shreds & thrown out as a bad idea even before planning applications were submitted. And he's only into it a) for "legacy" purposes, and b) because his fragrant former babysitter is behind it.

Joseph Ogden

Excellent journalism. Good writing and good logic. I also see this project as institutional vandalism. The landing platform on the south bank will require the felling of thirty mature Plane trees and the destruction of a peaceful avenue
for walkers on their way from the bottleneck around Waterloo Bridge. In its
place we will get an ugly concrete construction which will extend the
bottleneck further down the Thames Path and eliminate the only open
pleasant section of the long stretch between Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars.

Barden Gridge

Boris Johnson has accused Garden Bridge opponents of having a "Taliban-style hatred of beauty".
He has called them "demented enemies".
He has dismissed their objections to the project as "a load of cobblers!"

Would any other public figure get away with talking like that about people who disagree with them?
One person leaps to mind, and by a remarkable coincidence, it's Joanna Lumley. In an interview a few months ago, she said:

"I can't bear people not liking what I like. I want to go, 'What are you - stupid?'"
"When people go, 'You're wrong,' I think, 'No, you're a selfish bastard actually - you're wrong.'"

These people are completely shameless, and the media mostly let them get away with it.
But as you say, they've had their fun. This has to stop now.
Thank you to Londonist and The Guardian for taking a stand against this outrageously unnecessary project.

Beth Williams

Excellent article. There is a huge need for river crossings in London - east of Tower Bridge. The Garden Bridge is nothing more than a tourist attraction so let the hotels and airlines pay for it; not the taxpayer.

John Harrison

What a clear, well-argued article. Brilliant!

Tim Benson

Good article Rachel and clear analysis. I was very much in favour until I heard cycles were not to be allowed (crazy idea). I still favour the idea in terms of the concept of a beautiful and pleasant place to cross in central London. I am however swayed by the need for a bridge further East and the economic implications. Well done!

Chris Smith

After 8 years of Boris there is so little to show for it. Most of his projects have been expensive failures and heavy on public taxes. Good riddance to him.


So now we realise that Joanna Lumley was excellent as Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous not because she's a good actress but because she was playing herself: a thoughtless, selfish, over-rated member of the upper classes who wants to drink gallons of champagne at someone else's expense while sneering at poor and homeless people who aren't allowed in to the venue.

People rarely lose their national treasure status so I suppose the garden exclusion zone has that novelty. Well done Patsy!

Greg Tingey

Boris Johnson met Joanna Lumley and Thomas Heatherwick before the bidding process started. He even went with Heatherwick and Isabel Dedring, the Deputy Mayor for Transport, to Apple in San Francisco in an attempt to secure funds for what was then intended to be an entirely privately funded project...

Yes, & BoJo appears to have tried to short-circuit proper planning & oversight about the revolting (IMHO) Bishopsgate "Goodsyard"project hasn't he?

Dare one mention the word "CORRUPTION" without risking the lawyers?

Malcolm Sleath

Well said.


Thanks for this article! The money this farcical, dimwitted scheme would cost would fund the building of how many proper, well-designed council houses? Hey Joanna, ever heard of Wordsworth? Yeah, he wrote a poem a few centuries before you devised this ridiculous pipedream... Pfffft.