Garden Bridge Gets Final Approval — But What's The Point Of It?

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 41 months ago
Garden Bridge Gets Final Approval — But What's The Point Of It?

Image by ARUP

UPDATE: Deputy Mayor for Planning Sir Edward Lister gave City Hall's formal approval yesterday. He said: "Having reviewed this application thoroughly, I am happy for Westminster City Council and Lambeth Council to determine the applications for the Garden Bridge themselves. We have worked hard with both local authorities and the Garden Bridge Trust to ensure that the bridge is of the very highest standard of design while remaining fully accessible to those who work, live in and visit the city."

Labour London Assembly Finance Spokesperson, John Biggs, gave it more of a lukewarm welcome, calling the approval a "mixed blessing". "It’s obvious that the Garden Bridge is primarily a tourist attraction not a transport scheme, as such you really have to wonder whether this TfL funding could not have been better spent,” he said.

The Garden Bridge is going to be a reality. Westminster and Lambeth councils have signed it off, leaving just the Mayor’s office to give approval, and since Boris Johnson has been a vocal supporter since launch it doesn’t take a genius to see how that decision will go. We can expect to see the copper-clad, tree-lined bridge stretch between Temple station and the South Bank sometime in 2018. But what is the thing actually for?

A bridge

The obvious answer is: 'a bridge, idiot'. Except it's not that simple. The pedestrians-only Garden Bridge will be closed between midnight and 6am, as well as for 12 days each year for events. If there are eight or more of you, you'll have to book in advance (a 'handy' side effect of which, notes the developer, will be to stop protests). If you turn up on a weekend you'll probably have to queue: the Garden Bridge Trust (GBT) expects peak demand of 4,000-5,000 people an hour, but capacity is 2,500. That might be manageable if everyone just went straight across, but it's anticipated that people will linger an average of 25 minutes. If you're at Temple tube station and want to get to the ITV building in a hurry, it might genuinely be quicker to walk over Waterloo bridge than attempt to cross the Thames via the new flowery one.

A tourist attraction

The bridge's own planning application (PDF) calls it a "popular visitor attraction", and includes measures to manage expected queues for the estimated 7.1 million annual visitors. We have no objection to something awesome being opened in the middle of London, and were bowled over when plans were announced last year. But back then the idea was that it would all be privately financed. Now, Transport for London (TfL) and the Treasury have each committed £30m to the project. Much like the cable car, it leaves us asking: should public finances be going towards what's basically a tourist attraction?

The money

As well as initial construction costs of £175m, it's estimated the bridge will need £3.5m each year for its upkeep. (That compares with around £4.7m a year to maintain all the, admittedly less fancy, City of London bridges (PDF): Blackfriars, Southwark, Tower, London and Millennium.) The GBT plans to raise that money itself — hence the 12 potential closures each year, so it can hold fundraising parties — but Westminster council wants TfL to act as guarantor for the maintenance money as a condition of planning permission. Which would mean if the trust can't raise the dough, TfL would have to cough up.

This 'privately funded' bridge is increasingly relying on public finance, even though the public aren't even guaranteed 24-hour access. To a bridge in the centre of London. What's the point of it again?

Last Updated 19 December 2014


This reminds me of NYC's High Line, which repurposed a disused rail line in Manhattan into a public space which connects parts of the city above street level. Of curse that structure was already in place, so somewhat different.

I'd love to see this Garden Bridge made available for cyclists. I understand the desire to keep peds and cycles separate, but I don't see why - à la Hungerford Bridge - a couple of cycle paths could not be suspended to the sides and below. They would be invisible from the "garden" area and completely separate. They could remain open longer - making better use of public funds. The cost would be only incremental. The only issue would probably be keeping pedestrians off, but then that would probably not be an issue as the Garden Bridge itself would be a more attractive option. When the Garden Bridge is closed it would be night time and the cycle lanes could also offer an option for pedestrians.


in the context of cuts in just about every other area of public spending, there can be no justification for piling so much public money into a tourist attraction - £64m so far - plus underwriting costs of £3.5m a year in perpetuity - this has gone too far

Dominic Franks

it doesn't make any sense... if they're building a bridge they should build 'fast-track' walking and cycling arms at the same time. Complete waste of an idea.


A petition against the Garden Bridge.


....the High Line is almost 2.5km long - it's genuinely both a park and a pedestrian route - the Garden Bridge is only 330m long - and it's anticipated will attract more visitors than the High Line (7m compared to 5m) - it will be so crowded it will be impossible to use as a walking route at all - sadly this is definitely not all it's been touted as

Beth Williams

This would be an excellent opportunity for the very wealthy City Bridge Estate Trust to help London. Whilst the location may be slightly outside the City I cannot see why an exception cannot be made.


Of course public money can go towards financing tourist attractions! Nothing wrong with that. Next you'll be saying we should charge for our museums or something.


Not entirely sure why the NYC High Line should be seen as similar to this project: a disused overground railway bought back into public use as a walkway v imaginative new crossing over the Thames. And, if 5m people use the NYCHL per year, I've obviously been going at the wrong time because I've had a most peaceful strolls.

If we needed to ratify any project based upon cost there would be no art, no spontaneity, no beauty and nothing that exists simply because it's interesting. why do we have to make it all things to all Londoners? Can't it just be? Why should cyclists be included? if so, why not taxis, skateboarders and scooters.

Yes it's going to cost a lot of money and yes that money could be used to good effect: schools, health, homeless and the disadvantaged would have clear priority over such a folly. But again, if that were our life criteria how much of what surrounds us, of what we take for granted: museums, buildings, sculpture would exist today? The brilliance of Pugin at Westminster, Wren at St Pauls, of Epstein at 55 Broadway, Eros, Nelsons Column, St James' Park all conceits of one kind or another, but all enriching in their own way.

The bridge is a folly in strictest terms. Most certainly by our rigid cost conscious abnegating society. But it will bring joy to many people, it will be special and it will add further piquancy to London as a unique experience.


It's a private bridge with no public right of way funded by large amounts of public money.

Adrian Baron

The other big difference is that the New York High Line is free and certainly has more capacity in terms of people using it at one time, by the look of the Arup mocked up image, than the Garden Bridge.Its at least twice as wide as the bridge seems to be as it used to be an elevated double tracked freight railway.

It is had to believe that TfL are pouring Stg. 30M into this : this ought to be 100% privately funded and TfLs 30M ( if they really have it ) used to build the Surrey Canal Road Station on the Overground.


It would seem to make more sense if it was dual use, and had a 24 hour walkway and cycleway as well as the garden component.

Ed Jacks

absolutely stupid, TFL could find lots of much better ways to spend that sort of money. and the treasury? why are they putting money into a bridge over the thames at all, they too could do much more good with it. NO PUBLIC MONEY SHOULD GO INTO THIS PROJECT AT ALL.


I went on the NY High Line this May and I *hated* it. Narrow, crowded and with no respite from the sun (none of the trees and shrubs are tall enough really to provide shade) I had to get off it as soon as I could. For me, it was the very antithesis of a relaxing park. Looking at the artist's impression in this article, it looks like the Garden Bridge Folly will suffer from many of the same issues.

Colleen O'Sullivan

At last count nearly 30 mature trees (mostly London Planes) were due to be removed to make this garden bridge a reality. Please tell me how building a bridge with shrubs and trees, which given the amount of soil on the bridge will never ever come close to maturity, is supposed to be green? Very backwards thinking going on. All at the cost to local authorities and TfL.

Matthew Rees

I was a fan originally but have become more sceptical as the details came through. Rather like the cable-car, it connects two parts of London that do not need connecting and it is too narrow (like the old Hungerford Bridge) to be much use for crossing the river anyway. If you want to see plants then go to one of the parks.


Who are the Garden Bridge Trust who will control this bridge? Who chose their members? What is the political bias within the Trusts membership? Are they fully accountable? Can they be challenged? What if they decide to increase the number of days per year the bridge will be closed to the public so that, oh I dont know, their corporate friends in the city can use the bridge for corporate functions. The number of days it will be closed will trickle upwards. This is despite public funds being used to build the bridge. Accosting public funds to support Corporate functions. This is where the real corrupt stink about this bridge and the Conservative party associated with it lies.


If it's public money, why not finance a real, free, not-for-profit park somewhere. Gardens are made to be lingered in, not to be rushed through at a rate of so many people per hour. What a silly idea.


Yo so is Londonist determined to hate this bridge or something?


Didn't realise there were quite so many killjoys in London. It's a truly wonderful and inspiring concept. We are raising so many enormous monoliths in the city dedicated only to making money - temples of avarice and greed. The cost of the bridge dwindles into insignificance beside them. Look at the financial monsters built in Canary Wharf - and how much their activities have subsequently cost every one of us. Sometimes a city has to create purely to give pleasure. The benefits of this garden bridge to its citizens and visitors aren't quite as obvious, but they are undoubtedly present.


The fight continues as Boris Johnson says yes...and no

It's getting confusing now, it looks like Boris has effectively said no by refusing to 'underwrite' the project, perhaps a last minute slight of hand after recognising the mounting costs and opposition to this project.

Whilst I like the idea of a garden bridge in principle I think the location is wrong, the design is wrong and the funding method is wrong. It's a public place and should be open 24/7 and there should be a split level design to allow completely segregated cycling. They didn't even try to think about how to accommodate cyclists. And from a purely aesthetic point of view bridges that don't flow smoothly at each end are pants - this bridge stops abruptly and then has stairs and lifts.


Please keep spreading the word about signing this petition; only a big show of hands will have any effect on those who are supposedly in charge of this crazy project - thanks:


Pls sign/RT/circulate to stop mad vanity project!