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Heritage row looms for new Thames 'living bridge' plan

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Business campaign group London First is facing a huge planning conflict with English Heritage over ambitious plans it is secretly formulating to build a new 'living bridge'across the Thames.

The pedestrian bridge has been designed by Antoine Grumbach, the French architect who won the Thames Water Habitable Bridge competition in 1996, organised by the Royal Academy. Now London First has commissioned a completely redesigned version of that project, although it has again proposed to build it from Temple Gardens on the north bank to the London Weekend Television building on the south.

But English Heritage's London region director Philip Davies shocked architects, developers and civic leaders on Monday when he attacked the hush-hush proposals at a London Rivers Association conference. The bridge includes a series of towers built out onto the river on the south side, but Davies criticised the 'threat' the proposed structures posed to views and said any new river crossing should instead be 'transparent, elegant and light'.

'In our view it's totally unacceptable, 'Davies told the AJ. 'The Thames is an open space which belongs to everyone in London. The river is not a development site and should not be walled off. '

Robert Gordon Clark, an advisor to London First on the project, said the bridge will retain Grumbach's idea for a 'garden element' along its length but it was too early to say whether towers will be part of the final project.

'This is a significant project, not just for the neighbouring boroughs but also for London as a whole, ' he said. 'It hits just about every point in Nick Raynsford's description of a strategic development. ' Clarke said the scheme would not be costed until its final configuration was known and a planning application to Lambeth and Westminster, along with consultation with Southwark and the City, are some time off. London mayor Ken Livingstone will also have a say in the development of a key new link for the capital.

Grumbach was joint winner of the Royal Academy Living Bridge in 1996 along with Zaha Hadid. Hadid's scheme was backed by developer the Manhattan Loft Corporation and featured cantilevered columns linked in the centre by pedestrian walkways. But Grumbach's design emerged as the 'people's choice'with more than 37 per cent of those visiting the RA 'Bridging the City'exhibition saying it was their favourite of the seven that were shortlisted. Grumbach's scheme then was a covered arcade with shops and cafes anchored on the north side by twin 35-storey towers. On the south side there was a large tropical greenhouse built out on stilts into the river and the whole thing was costed at between £60 million and £80 million.

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