New London Mayor Sadiq Khan is giving his support to the controversial Garden Bridge project — with some major caveats, reports City A.M. A proposed pedestrian bridge across the River Thames planted with trees and flowers, the bridge is more for tourists than improved mobility, as nine other bridges already span two miles of river in the South Bank area, seven of which can be crossed on foot. Former Mayor Boris Johnson backed the project, but until now, Khan has been more critical, warning that the space “must be a genuinely public and open space for all Londoners, rather than a closed and private space.”
To that end, he has four conditions for giving his support to the Garden Bridge Trust. The Bridge must be closed for fewer days each year for private fundraising events (the current plan calls for 12 per year). When it is closed, the bridge must be closed to the public for fewer hours, permitting use in the mornings and evenings (the current plan calls for its closure from midnight to midnight). Children at nearby schools must be able to visit and be involved in planting and maintenance, as well as ongoing programming. The Garden Bridge Trust would be required to build a relationship with other city parks, granting them access to seeds and plants grown on the bridge for replanting elsewhere.
“The early days of this project clearly fell short of our expectations on transparency,” said Khan. “I will let the sunshine in, which is why we are today publishing the previously undisclosed full business plan for the Garden Bridge alongside a list of its funders.”
The project has earned criticism in part because of funding. When first proposed, it was touted that the project would be financed entirely by private sources, but 40 million pounds ($58.4 million U.S.) were then committed from public funds. The total cost of the bridge is estimated at 175 million pounds ($255.6 million U.S.).
Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Liberal Democrats at the London Assembly, was not happy about Khan’s statement of support. “Today’s decision is highly disappointing. Instead of tinkering with minor changes from the Garden Bridge Trust the mayor should be seeking to recoup every penny of Transport for London funding that has been allocated to this highly controversial project,” she said. “The mayor should also be refusing to underwrite the annual maintenance costs of this project. There are numerous transport projects in London that desperately need public funding and are a far higher priority than this vanity project from the previous mayor.”
Others have objected to the bridge on the basis of its highly restrictive “security measures” and expectations for behavior and conduct. A planning document has shown that Garden Bridge Trust intends to track mobile phone signals in order to count the number of visitors to prevent overcrowding. Rules also include a prohibition on any exercise other than jogging, playing a musical instrument, taking part in a gathering of any kind, giving a speech, scattering ashes, releasing a balloon, or flying a kite. Staff would be permitted to confiscate and destroy such banned items.
The trust hopes to start construction this year. Thomas Heatherwick is the designer; Arup is serving as bridge engineer and lead consultant.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.