Who could possibly be against the planned Garden Bridge when it is described as a ‘…stunning new public garden and pedestrian crossing… a vital new route between north and south London and feature plants, trees, woodland and meandering walkways to be used and enjoyed by all.’ (From the Garden Bridge website)
Except that it is not nearly that straightforward. I have been observing the arguments on both sides for a while now, trying to gather enough evidence (rather than just marketing blurb) to make sure that I have an informed opinion on what is potentially one of the most significant additions to the South Bank in many years. I have to confess to initially being attracted to the idea – a Garden Bridge sounds like a nice addition. So what has changed?
Essentially – the vague concept is still attractive, but the details are shocking. In what appears to be an attempt to get ‘buy-in’ from as many people as possible, the bridge as currently conceived is utterly confused as to its purpose. It tries simultaneously to be a tourist attraction (attracting many thousands in visitor numbers – sufficient that there are even proposals for a ‘ticketing’ system at peak times); a bridge for commuters to use to ‘reduce severance’ and a ‘green park in the Thames for Londoners to enjoy’. These are patently obviously contradictory aims.
Tackling its basic function as a bridge first – there is little evidence that a new bridge is genuinely needed in this location. It would be in a section of the Thames where there are already 9 bridges within 2 miles – not exactly short of crossing opportunities. Equally, it links the South Bank (predominantly a tourist and visitor location) with Temple (basically an enclave of lawyers and legal firms) – again, not an obvious connection that needs to be made. Furthermore, if its main purpose is a bridge then it should be a public right of way – not closed at night or whenever more funds are required and so it is pimped out as a corporate events location.
On the other hand, if it is meant to be a tourist attraction primarily – then it should be subject to the requirements that come from that. It was noticeable that whilst both Lambeth and Westminster planning committee’s approved the plans – it was mentioned at both that ‘if this was a purely private application then we would not be approving it’. Equally, and even more shockingly, there is £30Mn of Transport for London money being given to the bridge. Personally I can think of a great many things that that money could be spent on genuinely improving transport for Londoners.
If it is intended to be a ‘park like green space’ for Londoners to ‘enjoy and relax in’ then it suffers from trying to be too popular. Groups are restricted to no more than 8 (so 2 or 3 families can’t picnic on it together as you would often choose to do in a park). There is little space for relaxing and being still as it has to functionally contain a walkway for those using it as an actual bridge as well as the large numbers.
Given all of the above I have come to the conclusion that it is the wrong bridge, in the wrong location, being funded in the wrong manner and I will be adding my name to the petition against it.
If you are interested and want to read more about it, Thames Central Open Space are doing a great job at highlighting the issues (better than I have above).
You can sign the petition on change.org here:
– Mark Chapman, Pirate Party PPC for Vauxhall (the constituency which covers the South Bank)