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Questions Grow in Garden Bridge Plans

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

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LONDON--From funding to function, the London Assembly has unanswered questions concerning Mayor Boris Johnson's plan to build the world's most expensive footbridge across the River Thames.

The Assembly voted 11-3 Wednesday (June 3) to demand that Johnson "carry out a full audit" of the £175 million (about $274.6 million USD) Garden Bridge project.

The Assembly also called on Johnson to remove £30 million ($46 million USD) in Transport for London (TfL) funding that he had committed to the project.

GardenBridge
Garden Bridge Trust

The bridge would include lush plantings and hundreds of live trees. Critics say that trees would have to be cleared for the project and that the funds should go to current green space.

TfL oversees the streets, buses and Underground rail network in the city of 8.6 million. The Assembly declared in a statement that the Garden Bridge "serves no transport function."

Ground-Breaking...

Caroline Pidgeon, MBE AM, who proposed the motion, roundly criticized the project's location, purpose and lush design, which includes a costly copper-nickel alloy cladding for the bridge's belly.

The 1,200-foot-long route from the South Bank area to Temple Station would feature shrubs, flowers, plants, 270 trees, woodland and meandering walkways in a "ground-breaking design," according to the Garden Bridge Trust, the nonprofit established to oversee the project.

The Trust said the bridge would "integrate a new kind of public space into the fabric of the city."

Or Folly?

Not so, Pidgeon responded in a statement Wednesday.

CarolinePidgeon BorisJohnson
Official photo (left); Wikipedia (right)

London's popular mayor, Boris Johnson, heartily supports the Garden Bridge. London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon calls the project "folly" and wants it de-funded and audited.

Although the project began with a request by TfL to improve pedestrian links across the river, "[t]here are many locations along the Thames ... where there is a far more pressing need for a bridge serving pedestrians and cyclists than the site of the Garden Bridge," Pidgeon said.

The statement added: "If the objective of the Garden Bridge is to improve London’s public spaces, then it is folly to cut down more than 30 mature trees and reduce much-valued open space on the South Bank. £60 million of public funding could be far better spent improving numerous parks and open spaces across the capital."

Finally, Pidgeon noted a need to address "serious questions about how the design contract was awarded."

'Overwhelming Opposition'

British actress and activist Joanna Lumley has championed the bridge, which was designed by architect Thomas Heatherwick. Heatherwick Studio is working with engineers at Arup and landscape designer Dan Pearson.

GardenBridge Site
Garden Bridge Trust

The location is just one of many objections to the Garden Bridge. Critics say pedestrian links are needed elsewhere along the River Thames.

The Lambeth Council and Westminster City Council both green-lighted the project last year, and London's popular mayor has been firmly behind the project.

On the other hand, many locals have dug in against the plan, noting that it will obstruct views of St. Paul's Cathedral and other beloved landmarks.

The critics also are demanding "a full public inquiry" into the project application, including a review of Lambeth's due diligence to protect its historical buildings.

Finally, the critics cast doubt on the maintenance projections for the project.

GardenBridgeCladding
Twitter.com / @TheGardenBridge

The £175 million (about $274.6 million USD) span would be the most expensive footbridge in the world, largely because of the special copper-nickel cladding, civil engineers have said.

"This seems like a poorly thought-through project which, although attractive at first glance, on reflection is seriously deficient in a number of important respects," attorney Richard Stein said in February.

'Many Objections'

In its motion this week, the Assembly noted "with concern the many objections" to the proposal "from a wide variety of individuals and organizations."

The motion cites a laundry list of objections, including "the proximity to other crossings, the blocking of historic views of the Thames, the procurement process, the lack of cycling provision, the lack of a guaranteed right of way or step free access, the loss of over 30 mature trees on the South Bank, and the [Greater London Authority] underwriting ongoing maintenance costs running into millions."

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Cladding; Copper; Government; Project Management

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