Best Of London | By: N Quentin Woolf

Londonist Out Loud: The Garden Bridge

Welcome to the latest episode of Londonist Out Loud, a podcast about London.

This week, N Quentin Woolf meets Chris Roberts to talk about the controversial Garden Bridge. Is it going to be a great draw and an attraction for the city, or a white elephant paid for by the public purse?

The Garden Bridge Trust says there are inaccuracies in some of the information Chris Roberts provides in this podcast. A Trust spokesman raises the following amendments:

  • It was claimed that £65m of public money is being used - it is actually £60m.
  • Planning was not rushed through, we were guided by planning authorities and the GLA through the proper procedures.
  • Groups of eight will not need to book. They will be welcome and there will be staff on hand to help look after visitors and safely manage numbers. Larger groups of organised tours will be encouraged to contact staff in advance, so they can get advice on the best times to visit and how to plan their trip.
  • The location will improve transport connectivity, efficiency and resilience on both sides of the River Thames, by providing a direct connection to Temple Underground and reducing pressure on Waterloo Station. Over 10,000 commuters a day will use the Bridge to get to work.
  • The Garden Bridge will have 2,500 sqm of brand new garden. Specifically 270 trees, 2,000 shrubs, hedging plants and climbers, over 22,000 hardy perennials, ferns and grasses and 64,000 bulbs. The species have been carefully chosen for their suitability to the Thames environment and some of the UK’s best horticulturalists and gardeners are planning the garden.
  • Lambeth has not put money towards the project — £30m will come from TfL and £30m from DfT, 65% of the funds are being raised privately.
  • The Bridge will run programmes and volunteer schemes to educate and involve the local community. Most recently we conducted ayouth board with children from Oasis Academy.
  • We carried out extensive consultation before submitting the planning application to LB Lambeth and Westminster City Council with 2,451 responses in all. Consultation undertaken prior to the planning application submission found 85% of Lambeth residents and 86% of Westminster residents were supportive of the Garden Bridge.

Please do let us know your thoughts via Twitter @londonistsound and @londonist or in the comments.

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Londonist Out Loud is presented and produced by N Quentin Woolf.

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I know I risk incurring the wrath of NQW again, but that wasn't very fair or balanced, was it?

chris roberts

As you may have noted about it would appear a debate has indeed been started. This is good. The (very nice*) press people at Garden Bridge Trust contacted me with the comments above and I have to thank them for correcting me on the money. I don't like to be inaccurate and was going off figures in public domain (including a supportive piece on the bridge from Simon Jenkins in the Standard ) and should have rechecked that the current figure is indeed £60 million. My apologies.

I understand the concept of correct procedures but not entirely sure how wide a debate was held and how aware people are in the broadest sense of what exactly the bridge is before the procedures were guided through. Most people if you ask them whether they are fond of their mothers and whether they approve of Tunnocks tea cakes will say yes and most people -including myself- are charmed by the concept but fewer are when they consider it. I respect their feedback numbers but 2,450 is a good gate at Champion Hill** and in a city of millions hardly a mandate (didn't someone want somewhere want 50% of voters to call a strike?). I do welcome the opportunity for debate.

Returning to the podcast perhaps banned is a bit strong but needing to book a public space is unusual and I'm assuming access will be denied if one's group fails to book so feel that might be a case of splitting hairs there. As to the rest I actually stand by what I say it is not an effective transport solution for that area and could do very well elsewhere on the Thames given that Waterloo Bridge & Blackfriars Bridges are quite robust enough for 10,000 pedestrians.

My turn to split hairs I suppose. I said Lambeth have facilitated the bridge -which I'm sure you'll agree has cost them time and money- but no direct finance so apologies there on my part. I'd also like to thank the Garden Bridge Press people for clarification as to the wonderful amount of trees and flowers I did say in podcast what a beautiful thing it is, I was rather questioning whether it was the best use of money and most effective means of greening London.

Finally, at least for now, I'm profoundly grateful they also failed to spot my confusion between W. S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan for which I must (again) offer my apologies.

*I mean that.
**Dulwich Hamlet


We would now like to add our amendments:

At £175m, this will be the most expensive footbridge in the world. 270 trees; that's about £648K per tree. How is that good value for money? To put it in to perspective, you could rescue several rain forests with that kind of funding or distribute it equally amongst boroughs within the capital (and beyond) in order to transform grey areas into green.

It's not a world first let alone in the UK; Mile End already has a garden bridge as do many other countries e.g. Netherlands https://bicycledutch.wordpress...

The Garden Bridge Trust did not carry our 'extensive' consultation. With only 2424 respondents in 2013 (the rest were stakeholders) this does not represent London which has 8.5 million people. We have since done extensive research into how Lambeth residents feel about it and over 2500 signatures have been gathered within the South Bank area alone, in strong opposition to the bridge.

The GBT had to offer 'volunteering' opportunities to youth groups to greenwash this project which will be enormously damaging to the environment

Around 2500m2 open green space on the South Bank that is currently enjoyed by the public and is open 24/7, will be lost because of this private vanity project. The creation of this private shrub-lined path will only be accessible whenever the GBT deign to allow you to cross i.e.when they have not closed it for private parties/events. The 'opening times' will be completely in their control. No other bridge is closed at night in London. This is simply the privitisation of open public space - which is wrong. There are several better ways of greening the city

And TfL has given £4m for 'enabling costs' to bring about the project i.e. to pay for its PR, marketing, test rig etc. This is unaccounted for within the £30m from TfL (and £30m from the Treasury/Dept of Transport) and is therefore considered a bolt-on - so that's £64m of public funds to date.

The GBT are totally our of touch and repeating the same pitiful excuses for excusing this ungainly folly being foisted upon us. 'Volunteering' - read 'free labour', £64m of public funds would go a long way to solving many crises in the UK. They are exploiting young people and duping them into thinking this is a good way to spend money in this time of austerity. Shame on them.

And this bridge IS being rushed through. Massive infrstructure projects like this normally take several years to go through planning and consultation procedures. This has taken a couple of years. In May, the GBT started boring into the Thames with their machinery to test the river bed, all of which is paid for by us i.e. TfL, yet the final stages of planning haven't been passed yet. It's as if Boris Johnson has been told to fast-track this before he steps down as mayor.

And Lambeth will have to pay for it in some way. Who do you think will subsidise the extra resources required for millions of visitors? Lambeth Council have already wasted £80,000 in a high court battle defending poor planning decisions made by its officers/councillors. This vanity project a huge millstone around Lambeth's neck.


"It was claimed that £65m of public money is being used - it is actually £60m."

Oh, well that's QUITE alright then. Go ahead. As you were.