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Garden Bridge backers dismiss claims project is 'hanging in the balance'

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The Garden Bridge Trust has hit back after campaigners claimed rulings concerning land and maintenance issues had put the controversial project ‘in a legal headlock’

The backers behind the £175million scheme dismissed fears that the Thomas Heatherwick-designed project was hanging in the balance after the ‘landing site’ on the south bank of The Thames was designated as a community asset by Lambeth Council.

Deputy chairman of the Trust Paul Morrell, said that the latest developments wouldn’t hinder the project - which has a proposed start date of early 2016 - despite campaigners alleging the new designation had delivered a ‘fatal blow’ to the timescale for the new bridge.

Earlier this week Waterloo resident Michael Dall dropped his application for a judicial review after reaching an agreement with Lambeth Council to deliniate the land as an Asset of Community Value (ACV).

ACV rights allow communities to ask a council to list certain assets as being of value to the community. If an asset is listed and then comes up for sale, communities then have six months to put together a bid to buy it. The legislation does not give a right to buy the land in question - but it does give potential bidders the time to put a proposal together.

The six-month moratorium would mean that construction could not start before January 22 2016.

Speaking to the AJ Morrell, the former chief construction adviser to the government, said: ‘The judicial review launched by Michael Ball has been resolved between him Lambeth Council and the application has now been withdrawn; and with £125million raised and our preferred contractors for construction and landscaping appointed, we continue to make good progress with construction still planned to start in early 2016.’

The ACV ruling comes after the Garden Bridge Trust agreed to cover the cost of the ongoing maintenance of the bridge, estimated at £3.5m a year or £90million over the lifetime of the Bridge.

However Ball said that the Trust had been put ‘in a legal headlock’ as it would either have to find the funds or have a guarantee in place before construction could begin. Without such a guarantee in place the Garden Bridge cannot be built.

Ball said: ‘The ruling means that they can’t building until they get the maintenance costs underwritten or paid for the entire lifespan of the project, which would be in the region of £90million. This would be on top of the cost to build the bridge and since they haven’t raised any money for months we don’t see how they are going to pay for it.

“The Trust is £50million short already on the money they need to be able to build the bridge. It seems likely therefore that they will have great difficulty getting a private supporter to put an additional £90million on the line. £60million of public funding has already been committed, in this age of austerity, to what was supposed to be a private bridge, and Boris Johnson has ruled out any more public subsidies. We will keep this under close scrutiny, and will be ready to go back to Court if necessary’.

The London Assembly also raised concerns over the Garden Bridge this week when it passed a motion calling on the Mayor of London to withdraw funding for the project, claiming the link would ‘serve no transport function’.

Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, who proposed the motion in the London Assembly, said: ‘There are many locations along the Thames, from Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf, where there is a far more pressing need for a bridge serving pedestrians and cyclists than the site of the Garden Bridge.

‘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.

“At the same time it is vital that an independent audit is carried out looking into the whole procurement process as there are serious questions about how the design contract was awarded.’

The full London Assembly Motion

This Assembly notes with concern the many objections to the proposed Garden Bridge from a wide variety of individuals and organisations, from the Taxpayers’ Alliance to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Objections have been raised over: 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 GLA underwriting ongoing maintenance costs running into millions.

This Assembly believes that, with no cycling provision or guaranteed public right of way and given the proximity to other bridges, the project serves no transport function, and it is therefore inappropriate that £30 million of Transport for London money has been committed to it.

This Assembly further believes that the public money earmarked for the project would be much better allocated to pedestrian/cycle river crossings where there is a genuine transport need, such as the proposed Brunel Bridge at Rotherhithe/Canary Wharf, or spent creating and improving green public spaces in other parts of the city.

This Assembly therefore calls on the Mayor to agree to a full, independent audit of the procurement process, and to withdraw TfL funds from the project.

 

 

 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I just don't understand how seasoned politicians like Boris Johnson and George Osborne can continue to root for a very high profile 'boutique' project that offers little more than novelty value when it involves their committing £60 million of public funds while at the same time rooting around squeezing the lifeblood out of public services to reduce the national debt.
    They seem to share the notion that the bridge will be a tourist attraction, and an advertisement for British design ingenuity.
    They might also like to consider the implications of what seems to be a blatantly dishonest procurement process and profligate use of scarce public funds to create an essentially private folly.
    This is such a glaring faux-pas that it might just be the 'straw that breaks the camel's back' as far as the 'United' Kingdom is concerned, given the widespread contempt in Scotland for what some call 'Wastemonster'.

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