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Heatherwick: 'Opposition to Garden Bridge is ludicrous and devastating'


Designer Thomas Heatherwick has hit back at critics of his proposed Garden Bridge across the Thames, saying the project will benefit ‘normal people’

The bridge has faced escalating criticism from commentators who have questioned its funding and raised concerns about how it will be used and its impact on sightlines across the river.

In addition, the London Assembly’s oversight committee is currently investigating Transport for London’s procurement process of Heatherwick and engineering designer Arup following a series of stories by the Architects’ Journal obtained through Freedom of Information.

In an interview with the Evening Standard - whose owner Evgeny Lebedev is one of the scheme’s most prominent backers - Heatherwick said: ‘This project is so special because it is for everybody.

‘It will open up views and spaces in London that normal people have never seen before.’

Heatherwick bemoaned a ‘deeply engrained’ scepticism among the British, which he said could scupper his plans.

‘Scepticism can be a very positive force but it can also be deeply unhelpful and hold back progress,’ he said.

‘The intentions behind the bridge are entirely social and altruistic and the fact that it could be held back by a small group of people who are determined to derail it is completely ludicrous and devastating.’

Following a hearing last month with TfL’s director of strategy and policy Richard De Cani along with fellow witnesses Walter Menteth and AJ deputy editor Will Hurst, the committee will this Thursday call TfL’s director of internal audit, Clive Walker, to give evidence.

As AJ recently reported, TfL’s internal audit of the procurement process has been widely condemned and was described as a ‘whitewash’ by Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan after an earlier, more critical version of the review document was leaked to the Architects’ Journal.



Readers' comments (10)

  • Thomas Heatherwick is missing the point. For every visitor or tourist who would have the chance to look out from the proposed Garden Bridge, many more ordinary Londoners would lose the precious views from Waterloo Bridge and the riverside walkways that are part of the everyday pleasures and rewards of living in the capital.

    Waterloo Bridge is a true public space, interwoven with the roads, pavements and bus routes of the city, open to all, twenty-four hours a day. The elevated bridge deck would be accessible only by struggling up stairs, or queueing to take the lift, and regularly closed at night and for corporate events.

    And that's to say nothing of the giant raid on local and national public funds that would be needed to build and maintain the Garden Bridge. A project, which - let's not forget - was touted as a 'gift' to London.

    Idealistic, yes. But a nice idea is not the same as a good idea.

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  • If it wasn't for the scepticism then AJ wouldn't have uncovered the illegality of the TfL procurement processes. If it wasn't for scepticism then it wouldn't have been discovered that the Chair of the GBT gave Tessa Jowell £10k, or that Neil Coyle - MP for Southwark - ignored his constituents begging him to oppose the Bridge while not stating that his wife is one of the stakeholders of the project through being a partner at the landscape designers involved.

    Scepticis is indeed healthy. And for this project every time an opponent has been scepitical about something it has lead to intriguing new information.

    Progress is here debatable. I don't believe that something which is made of concrete, is greenwash, is not for Londoners, blocks views that have been enjoyed for 200 years, came about through undemocratic processes, is private and was not asked for is progress. To me, and many others, it is the absolute opposite of progress.

    This is why I, and thousands of others, are opposing it. Not because we hate beauty, hate London or hate progress. But exactly because we LOVE all those things and see in this Garden Bridge the opposite.

    Heatherwick has stated that this is an altruistic gift to us. But if we have categorically stated we don't want it, what will it take to stop them trying to oh-so-generously giving it to us? (with our money.....)

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  • Nathan Silver

    Thomas Heatherwick's fatuous comments hardly constitute "a defence," so he would be well advised to shut up about normal people and British scepticism. This is an unnecessary bridge stupidly sited to obstruct river views. It is a pompous ugly design that should never have received planning permission, much less be offered public funding. The way Mr Heatherwick was handed the commission appears to be a scandal of duplicity and malfeasance. I hope the whole lousy idea gets trashed soon.

    Nathan Silver

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  • Thomas Heatherwick can castigate people who haven't 'seen the light' - 'Oh Ye of little faith' so to speak - all he likes, but he might one day understand that his proposed garden bridge across the Thames is not God's gift to man, any more than he is.
    Rather, he seems to believe that his inventiveness in creating a series of (mostly) successful quirky designs gives him the right for a massive intervention that will change the character of a much loved stretch of the river that bisects our capital.
    Not so much 'open up views and spaces in London that normal people have never seen before' as bugger up views and spaces that 'normal people' are very familiar with.
    If Heatherwick and friends are so keen on this project, they don't need to impose it on us - I really do believe that they could create it in a new park, to adorn a new stately home, for their private pleasure.
    And maybe public fame - who knows, maybe when we're all pushing up the daisies it'll eventually gain listed protection as part of a designed landscape of national importance.
    The trouble is, Heatherwick & friends are in a hurry, and want to impose their wishes on 'normal people' who apparently don't know what's good for them.

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  • I love it when people trot out 'ordinary people' to support their arguments! Hey - show us the evidence Mr.Heatherwick that 'ordinary people' feel they will benefit. It is just not an argument unless you have the stats to back it up.

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  • What a pity that such a talented designer as Thomas Heatherwick gets so caught up by his own involvement in this ridiculous project that he literally can't see the wood for the trees. How on earth can this lumpen mass of concrete and greenery, dumped in the heart of the Thames "open up views and spaces in London that normal people have never seen before"? On the contrary, for those "normal people" it will block the very views from Westminster, Hungerford and Waterloo bridges that are such an intrinsic part of experiencing the Thames and London.

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  • Chris Rogers

    'Garden Bridge is ludicrous and devastating'


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  • First of all, did the AJ not get the memo? It is apparently journalistic law to preface any mention of Thomas Heatherwick with the words 'softly spoken'. Then again, his his carefully cultivated image as the humble genius who empathises with 'normal people' would probably be more believable if he didn't then compare himself to Sir Christopher Wren.

    In any event, what I find so strange about this whole sorry episode is the way that people can be so blasé about the way that Heatherwick, Lumley, Johnson and Osborne tried to hoodwink the public to the tune of £60 million.

    Heatherwick and Johnson have all but admitted in previous interviews that the Bridge serves no particular purpose other than 'being beautiful', but then they persist in trying to argue some ludicrous transport rationale for raiding the TfL coffers.

    I seem to recall this country going into a constitutional tailspin when a minister claimed £1600 pounds on his expenses for a duck house. If someone from FIFA gives someone else a handbag or a watch, the Sunday Times is there in Zurich to live-tweet the 'scandal'. But Johnson and Osborne siphon £60 million (!!!) from our strained transport budget to pay for the extravagant indulgence of a few architects, engineers and celebrities and nobody says boo.

    In his latest last gasp sour-grapes approach to salvage the project, Heatherwick has revealed himself to be a petty, disconnected egomaniac who is incapable of comprehending why the manner in which this project has been advanced has so antagonised people. I honestly believe that they could have gotten this project delivered if they had shown a little respect for the general public and worked harder to involve and excite them from the start. Instead, they seemed content to ignore public opinion so long as they had the ear of the few politicians and public officials that they needed to get the thing funded and approved. Now that the whole thing is going pear-shaped, they are revealing their true colours -- and there is nothing 'softly spoken' about the patronising, contemptuous tone of Heatherwick's latest comments.

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  • Even the two high-profile, highly paid commentators who contributed articles in favour of the Bridge to the Evening Standard couldn't manage to go all the way with Mr Heatherwick. Both Simon Jenkins and Nick Clegg said pointedly that the Bridge is in the wrong place.

    Mr Heatherwick sees all opposition as luddite. Maybe a word with or from Mr Clegg and Mr Jenkins might let him see how rather the opposition is trying to save a precious space used by "normal people" from permanent destruction by his project.

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  • Bottom up, not 'top' (celebrities et al) down... The privatisation of London is what is slowly killing it as a place to live. Peckham Coal Line and community driven projects like are what London needs to maintain its attraction. Not commercialised tat.


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