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Garden Bridge backers hit out at critics

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The executive director of the Garden Bridge Trust has hit back at critics of the proposed Thames crossing designed by Thomas Heatherwick

Bee Emmott, who is a former head of special projects at Heatherwick Studio, has written an open letter in an attempt to counter criticism of the £175million scheme.

Earlier this week, AJ reported on a backlash from opponents of the central London scheme when details of entry restrictions for the planned ‘public’ structure emerged.

A report to members of Lambeth Council’s planning committee earlier this month indicated the link would be closed to the public for up to 12 days a year and for private parties, and that groups of eight or more would be required to pre-register to visit.

Cycling will also not be permitted.

Emmott’s open letter takes on concerns about the extent to which it will be a genuine ‘public’ space and insists that plans to close the structure between midnight and 6am should not be taken as a sign it is primarily targeting tourists.

‘The Garden Bridge Trust has no intention to introduce ticketing for the bridge. It will be free and open for all,’ she said.

‘As is common practice among operators of public space, the trust feels there needs to be a mechanism in place to account for larger groups. An initial figure put forward was for groups of greater than eight people.

It is not about limiting people from using the bridge

‘This was an initial discussion point, and the trust is working with stakeholders and the local planning authority to develop our proposal and confirm the agreed numbers. Once this number is confirmed, groups of greater than that size visiting the bridge will be requested to inform the trust of their visit.

‘This will not be an ‘advance booking’ but a mechanism to allow the trust to better manage the number of users. It is not about limiting people from using the bridge. It is to ensure those who do visit the bridge have the best and most enjoyable experience possible.’

Lambeth planners approved the bridge at their meeting last week, but the project also requires the backing of Westminster City Council for its northern section. That decision is expected next month.

Emmott’s open letter can be read in full below.

The Garden Bridge Trust’s open letter

Operation of the Garden Bridge

The Garden Bridge Trust (the “Trust”) issues this letter in response to concerns raised about particular details of the operation of the Garden Bridge.

Firstly, the Trust reiterates that the Garden Bridge is fully intended for public use. It will be an open space to be used by everyone. People will be encouraged to meet and spend time there. It will provide a crossing to link the cultural centres and tourist attractions on the North and South Banks. However, equally as important, is that like other public spaces, the bridge be comfortable and safe for users.

Cycling on the Bridge

The Garden Bridge is designed to be used by everyone. Cyclists would be able to push their bikes over the bridge. However the Trust needs to ensure the bridge [is] a safe and pedestrian friendly environment.

The concept of the bridge includes a garden to provide a green space in the centre of London. The remaining area of the bridge deck includes ‘balconies’ to enjoy unique views of London and paths to cross the bridge. To provide a safe pedestrian environment it would be necessary to incorporate segregated cycle lanes or wider shared paths. This would result in a much-reduced planted area and erode the benefits of the bridge as a green space.

There are alternative existing and proposed cycling routes over the river, including the proposed north-south cycle superhighway on Blackfriars Bridge. Cyclists would need to dismount to access the Garden Bridge because of the need to use stairs or lifts. Therefore existing cycle routes are better for the majority of cyclists.

Group visits to the Bridge

Like other public spaces, the Garden Bridge Trust will need to manage numbers to ensure the comfort and safety of users. The Trust has, in collaboration with other partners on the South Bank, conducted a pedestrian forecasting exercise, which all parties are comfortable with.

As is common practice amongst operators of public space, the Trust feels there needs to be a mechanism in place to account for larger groups. An initial figure put forward was for groups of greater than eight people. This was an initial discussion point, and the Trust is working with stakeholders and the Local Planning Authority to develop our proposal and confirm the agreed numbers. Once this number is confirmed, groups of greater than that size visiting the bridge will be requested to inform the Trust of their visit. This will not be an ‘advance booking’ but a mechanism to allow the Trust to better manage the number of users. It is not about limiting people from using the bridge. It is to ensure those who do visit the bridge have the best and most enjoyable experience possible.  

Opening hours & ticketing

The Garden Bridge will be open between 6am and midnight. The closure at night is in no way related to demand from tourists. The Bridge is for Londoners and visitors to London alike. Therefore, the timing structure has been put in place to mitigate concerns about noise carrying to residential areas, and is a condition of the planning application. Further, the opening hours are in alignment with those of the cultural institutions on the South Bank.

The Garden Bridge Trust has no intention to introduce ticketing for the Bridge. It will be free and open for all.

Private use of the Bridge

The Garden Bridge is fully intended for public use. The Trust is exploring the possibility of holding a limited number of private events on the bridge each year. Every effort would be made to ensure the bridge remains open to the general public during these events, but there may be occasions where the bridge is closed. These events, which will include community events aimed at bringing local residents together, will be limited in number. They will also not require closure of the bridge for an entire day, but for no longer than a period of a few hours.

Further, The Trust is a UK registered charity, and will work to generate income to fund maintenance of the bridge. Revenue generated from these events would go towards this maintenance and upkeep of the bridge.

Location of the Bridge

The Garden Bridge was conceived as a project for central London. Its positioning will create a crossing of the Thames in central London that will reduce severance and contribute towards an increase in north-south movements across the river by foot. It will also contribute towards improving the quality of the pedestrian environment and public realm in central London that will support an increase in walking across central London as a whole.

A number of options were assessed against the objectives of the bridge, including enhancing/modifying existing bridges in central London; building a new pedestrian bridge in another part of central London; building a new simple footbridge between Temple and the South Bank (i.e. without a garden); and building a new bridge with a garden between Temple and the South Bank. 

Bee Emmott

Executive director, Garden Bridge Trust

 

 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Its about principles and clarity.

    This garden bridge was initially portrayed as an infrastructure project and as such tax payers money is being spent through the TFL and Government funding of £60m - if this was the total cost of a new bridge and it would be owned by the tax payer through adoption by the councils etc. this would be fine and normal as long as the cost:benefit ratio stood up to the necessary scrutiny that is required when spending such amounts of tax payers money.

    However, the bridge is likely to cost at least £115m more than what we have promised as tax payers, so it needs to be more than a river crossing. It was then promoted as London's equivalent of the New York Highline - this is of course nonsense as the highline was an intuitive recycling of a derelict piece of existing infrastructure at very low cost into something extraordinary; not a new construction.

    It was then touted about as being about ecology and sustainability - this again is of course nonsense as the river bank and mudflat habitat is a rare and protected area whereas London is blessed with vast parks and hundreds of thousands of trees; and for £175m you can do an awful lot of good for ecology and sustainability elsewhere. Many substantial (around 30 I understand) trees will be felled to make way for the bridge also.

    So now the marketing is all about tourism; you may have noticed but London is not short of tourists. The city is a world city and already has huge pull in regard to tourism. If we agree that £60m is well spent and we get a new crossing at this point of the river then the idea that an extra £115m above and beyond the cost of a new bridge is required to attract more tourist is of course, again, nonsense.

    Therefore what it boils down to is that the poetry and romance brought to the proposal by Lumley and Heatherwick is required to attract private sponsorship - to pay the extra £115m the bridge needs to be a landmark and a place that large multi-national corporations want to be associated with (and can use on occasion to entertain other large corporations). So it becomes a posh park of sorts, a tourist attraction that doubles as a river crossing most of the time but needs to entertain its backers to survive financially.

    The added twist here is of course the location. The above funding strategy is less likely to work at Nine Elms, where many would prefer the bridge to be located, and arguably where is it needed, as the view simply isn't as good. Corporations will pay for a view in one direction of St Pauls and the City, and in the other the Palace of Westminster, but not one of private apartments like Riverlight.

    The problem that Lumley and co. face is that they are trying to sell something to the public and planning committees that already exists. We can all walk at sunrise and sunset along the tree lined embankment, surrounded by trees, or jog, or rollerblade or cycle along southbank with a majestic view of St Pauls. We can also currently walk across Waterloo Bridge and gain the most beautiful view of Westminster in one direction and the city and St Pauls in the other - and we can all do this for free.

    The problem for those who object is that the planning system is geared up for saying yes; they must consider what is put in front of them and cannot take into account the cost, where the money is coming from or if there are other options. Only politician can do this, the Mayor in particular in this instance. And his view seems pretty clear so far, therefore in conclusion because of the way the system is set up the garden bridges construction seems almost inevitable.

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  • The more we see or hear about this bridge, the more it seems an irrelevant vanity project, that is trying to be pushed by various influential people. There is no infrastructure need for a bridge at this point of the river, and it really will destroy the urban scene and views of the city on either side, with its vegetation excrescenses. It looks utterly absurd and out of place, and destroys London's urbanity.

    There are more urgent needs of London, like cheaper public transport, building more council housing, reducing noise and pollution. London has enough beautiful parks and incredible tourist attractions than to need this ghastly folly that will create more problems than it will solve.
    Get rid of it!!!

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