Garden Bridge Campaign

The proposed Garden Bridge across the Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridges was initially supposed to be a pleasant park and additional way of crossing the river, paid for from private funds.

In spite of the on-going public sector austerity that continues to reduce funding for existing parks and public spaces and prevents the development of new pedestrian and cycling bridges where they are actually needed for Londoners, such as between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf, more than £60MM has been promised by TfL and the Treasury. In spite of this level of taxpayer support, the bridge will be a private space, closed at night and for at least eight weekends a year.

Further, the bridge and, particularly, its access points, will narrow an already crowded part of the Thames Path National Trail and will block the existing views of St Pauls and the City that open up as walkers emerge from under Waterloo Bridge (image from Thames Central Open Spaces).

Downstream view from the South Bank

As the Observer editorial (24th May 2015) says "It requires much trust to think that the proposed Thames garden bridge will be an asset for Britain. You have to believe that within a confined area it can simultaneously be a haven of peace, useful transport infrastructure and an attraction with more visitors than Disneyland, that it will not push the overcrowding on London’s South Bank, already bad, beyond endurance and safety, and that the failure to provide lavatories will have no unfortunate consequences."

As reported in this further Observer article, the Ramblers in Inner London oppose the building of bridge. We support Thames Central Open Spaces in their campaign to prevent it. For more details, check out their web site at www.tcos.org.uk.

For the highlights of the public meeting on the 18th of May 2015, with representatives of lots of other organisations explaining why this bridge is a bad idea, watch this video from TCOS.

To support this campaign, check out the actions on the Thames Central Open Spaces campaign pages.

Garden Bridge Funding Breakdown

The Ramblers oppose the proposed construction of the Garden Bridge across the Thames because it promises to replace currently public space with guarded private space and destroy the amenity of, and views from, the Thames Path National Trail.

Last night's Newsnight (17th August 2016) focussed on the finances of the Garden Bridge - there's a summary at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37112199.

This section of the programme had a very short piece from Caroline Pidgeon AM opposing the bridge, a longer piece to camera from the bridge's designer, Thomas Heatherwick, and a long interview with the Chair of the Garden Bridge Trust's board of trustees, Mervyn King.  The following interesting facts came out of the programme:

  1. Several funders have pulled out of the project, taking £22m of promises with them.
  2. The anticipated cost of the bridge has risen to £185m.
  3. Delivery of the bridge has slipped to 2019.
  4. When questioned about the large number of anonymous donors to the project (see right - image taken from tfl.gov.uk) Mervyn King assured the interviewer that all but five would be revealed when construction is finished.  NB He didn't explain how the public could be satisfied, in advance of construction, that there are no conflicts of interest or dubious sources of funds in this list.

Taken along with Mayor Khan's promise not to spend any more GLA money on the project, and his admission that it might not be built, plus the facts that the Trust has secured neither the land at either end of the bridge, nor a guarantee for the on-going maintenance costs shows that this project is teetering on the edge of failing.

Now is the time to keep up the pressure:

  • Write to the Mayor to urge him to refuse to guarantee the maintenance costs of the bridge
  • Write to the Secretary of State for Transport, asking him to refuse to extend the Department of Transport's underwriting of the scheme
  • Get involved in the campaign against the bridge being run by Thames Central Open Spaces (http://www.tcos.org.uk/) - in particular, contribute to the crowd-funded legal challenge that's being mounted against the bridge.

On Monday 16th May 2016, the Chair of the Inner London Ramblers, Phil Marson, was invited by Thames Central Open Spaces to join with MPs, GLA members, Lambeth councillors and representatives of other community and environmental organisations to address a public meeting called to ask the new London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, to put a stop to the proposed 'Garden Bridge' over the Thames between Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges.

Find out more about what happened at the meeting at the TCOS web site.  While you are there, you can support the campaign by contributing to the campaign and legal fund, writing to the decision makers and getting involved in the campaign.

Speakers at the Garden Bridge public meetingInner London Ramblers oppose the bridge because of its impact on the Thames Path, because it involves the enclosure and privatisation of a currently public and freely accessible space, and because the public money being spent on it could be better spent improving the walking environment, delivering economic, health and environmental benefits to Londoners.

The bridge will have an immediate impact on the views from the Thames Path; the vista across the river that you get as you emerge from underneath Waterloo Bridge will be replaced by the underside of another bridge.  The projected additional visitors combined with the narrowing of the embankment path will create another area as crowded and difficult to navigate as the cluster of tourist attractions near the London Eye and County Hall.  This part of the Thames Path currently gets 20 million visitors a year.  It doesn't need to attract any more.

The proposed bridge will replace a space on the South Bank that was leased to the Coin Street Builders on the condition that it remain open to the public and free from commercial activities with a massive building containing a cafe and gift shop, and access (including a 'queueing area') to the bridge.  The pocket park on top of Temple Station on the North Bank will be similarly destroyed.  The bridge will not be open at night and will close several weekends a year for private parties and will be patrolled by private security guards when it is open. 

This enclosure is being paid for with our money - £20M has been lent on easy terms to the trust.  Another £40M will be gifted, and running costs, planned to be in excess of £3M per annum will be guaranteed by TfL.  This money could be much better spent enriching the places Londoners actually want to go, and encouraging visitors to got to parts of the City beyond the congested places they congregate in now.  For example, a fraction of this money could be used to:

  • Improve and promote our strategic walking network - hundreds of miles of paths all over the city
  • Develop the Peckham Coal Line - the Garden Bridge is sometimes compared by its promoters with New York's High Line.  The Peckham Coal Line, the imaginateive reuse of existing infrastructure to open up public spaces is much more in the spirit of the High Line
  • Implement the London National Park City - to encourage new green spaces and routes across London.

We therefore call on the new Mayor to halt this wasteful project now, Southwark Council to withdraw its support, and Coin Street Community Builders to recognise the views of its residents and neighbours, and their elected representatives at local council, assembly and parliament and refuse to lease the Asset of Community Value they have stewardship over to the Garden Bridge.

The proposal to build the Garden Bridge between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge has stumbled on for the last few months.  Focus has shifted from the aesthetic and practical purposes of the bridge that isn't a bridge/park that isn't a park to the funding and procurement of the bridge.

The Ramblers is against the Garden Bridge because it will destroy views from the Thames Path, and make use of that National Trail more difficult by attracting more visitors to an already densely-grockled part of the South Bank without.  It will enclose, for private uses, currently public open spaces, destroying mature trees.  We believe that the public money that is committed to it would be better used improving cross-river connections away from Central London.

Artist's impression of South Bank Landing (from london-se1.co.uk)

The Garden Bridge proposes replacing green space and mature trees adjacent to the Thames Path national trail with this construction - photo from london-se1.co.uk

The National Audit Office has said the £60m of public money being spent on the bridge was at greater risk than the private funds, and a “high degree of uncertainty” hung over the scheme’s value for money.  It described as "unorthodox" the way that the Chancellor, George Osborne, offered central government money to the scheme, adding that "The department’s own quantitative analysis suggested that there may or may not be a net benefit and, especially once concerns over deliverability were taken account of, the project might well not have met the department’s normal threshold for allocating its finite funds." (Guardian, 16th January)

There have been a series of questions about the procurement process for the bridge's design.  Today, the President of the Royal Institution of British Architects (RIBA), Jane Duncan, claimed that that the winner of the contest to design the bridge was selected unfairly, said she was extremely concerned about the allegations, and that the procurement process should be stopped and scrutinised before more public money was put at risk. (Guardian, 9th February).

The more light that is shed on these processes, the more the Garden Bridge project looks like an attempt to enclose our public spaces while using our money to pay for it by giving it to friends of the current Mayor.

Construction looks unlikely to start before the Mayoral and GLA elections - Lambeth's planning conditions have not been met, the Trust does not have permission to sub-let the Coin Street Builder's land on the South Bank, and their fund-raising does not look like it is making much progress.  We need to keep the pressure up on the current Mayor, the candidates to be the next one, and the Garden Bridge Trust.

Go to the Thames Central Open Spaces campaign site to find out how to help to make sure that the national trail through central London is not despoiled by this unnecessary and costly tourist attraction, 

Things are moving at pace towards the next phase of the garden bridge campaign.

Mayoral Campaign

Only two of the Mayoral candidates are in favour of the Bridge.  Unfortunately, it's the two who are most likely to win and who cannot afford to upset the Evening Standard - the main media cheerleader for the bridge, which abandons any pretence at balance in support of its proprietor's whimsy. 

Zac Goldsmith is gung-ho for the bridge, and has been so for many months.  There must be something in the Eton education that he shares with the current Mayor that makes its alumni so keen on enclosing and restricting access to public land.

Sadiq Khan, the current favourite, was against the bridge when he sought the support of London's Constituency Labour Parties, although he changed his mind soon after becoming the candidate.  Since then, he (along with the Greater London Authority, the National Audit Office and the Royal Institute of British Architects) has expressed concern about the procurement processes for the bridge. 

It's worth keeping up the pressure on both candidates, but especially Sadiq Khan, to stop this folly.

Preparations to Build

Lambeth Council are so afraid of public scrutiny of the way that they have handled the process that they look like they are planning to put future decisions in the hands of a single (not South Bank) councillor to make away from public scrutiny (Lambeth could take Garden Bridge decision behind closed doors - London SE1).

The Garden Bridge Trust have signed the construction contract for the bridge, even though they are £30M pounds short of their target (even after taking £60M of tax payers money as gifts and soft loans) - Garden Bridge construction contract signed - London SE1

They haven't met all of the conditions that Lambeth Council has set for construction to start yet.  They haven't even got permission to sub-let the land from the Coin Street Community Builders.  More details from TCOS.

What can you do?

  1. Keep the pressure up on mayoral candidates, Lambeth councillors and Coin Street Community Builders - Write to the Decision Makers (TCOS)
  2. Contribute to the legal fighting fund to challenge the process by which this tourist attraction is being foisted on the Thames Path - Give to the legal fund (TCOS)

Some time ago, the Garden Bridge Trust commissioned someone to make a video showing the wide-support that their proposal for a publicly-funded privately-owned tourist attraction across the Thames between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge.  They were having trouble finding any reputable environmental organisations to appear in it and the producer approached me, as Chair of the Inner London Ramblers.

Obviously, I asked a load of questions before making a decision.  When I queried why the bridge was going to be closed at night, they said that I should think of it more like a park than a bridge, and parks shut at night.  I never found out why something that's more like a park than a bridge should get funding from Transport for London.  I declined to lend the Ramblers name to their promotional video. 

As the project proceeded, and more detail of the location, design and funding of the bridge became evident, the Ramblers in Inner London took a position to actively oppose the project.

An article in today's Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/nov/06/garden-bridge-mobile-phone-signals-tracking-london) outlines how users of the bridge will be monitored by 'enhanced CCTV', have their mobile phones tracked, and be subject to 'policing' by employees of the Garden Bridge Trust.  This is outlined in the Garden Bridge Trust's "Garden Bridge Illegal Trading Anti-social Behaviour Crowd Control and General Enforcement Management Plan" document.

Also in this document, are details of thirty 'prohibited acts' (exceptions to which can be granted by the Trust).  These include:

  • Use any kite
  • Make or give a speech or address
  • Play any game or engage in any form of sport or exercise, except running or jogging across the bridge
  • Organise or take part in any assembly, performance, rally, procession or gathering of any kind;
  • Consume any alcohol (Presumably this restriction will be lifted for private events on the 8-12 weekends a year when the bridge is closed to the public)
  • Release balloons

Now, none of these activities are normally banned in public spaces and meeting one's friends for a beer and a bit of kite flying and a speech to wish someone a happy birthday is the sort of thing that parks are commonly used for.  But that won't be allowed on the Garden Bridge which is, as you'll remember, "more like a park than a bridge").

Note, too, that the act of leading a group of ramblers, walking (not running nor jogging) across the bridge and stopping in the middle to describe the views of the city made possible by the more than £60M of public money going into the scheme, would break at least three of these restrictions.

When you breach them, the Trust's staff will be empowered (under the government's Community Safety Accreditation scheme) to demand your name and address.  Note that this is actually a stronger right than a normal police officer has; they can only do so if they are reporting you for a criminal offence.

So, what we seem to have is a heavily-surveilled publicly-funded private space in which people are heavily constrained in what normal, legal activities they may do, and threatened by a privately-run security force with police like powers.  And, remember, we're paying for this with:

  1. The enclosure and building upon of currently freely-accessible public space
  2. The loss of amenity on the Thames Path national trail - even if you can push through the additional millions of visitors to an already crowded stretch of the path, fabulous views of the City skyline from the path and the nearby bridges will be lost
  3. £40M pounds of tax payer money given directly to the Garden Bridge Trust
  4. £20M pounds of tax payer money lent at generous, subsidised terms to the Garden Trust
  5. A guarantee, by Transport for London, to cover the estimated £3.5M maintenance costs of the bridge in perpetuity, worth roughly £120M pounds.

Do support the campaign to stop this enclosure of public space and mis-allocation of public funds.  Go to http://www.tcos.org.uk/ to sign the petition and find out more about how to stop this folly.

(Phil Marson, Chair, Inner London Ramblers)