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Legal challenge launched over 'devastating' garden bridge plans

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A legal challenge has been launched against Thomas Heatherwick’s proposed Garden Bridge across the River Thames

Michael Ball, the former director of a local community group, has applied to the High Court for a judicial review into Lambeth Council’s decision to approve Heatherwick’s £175 million bridge.

He believes the impact of the link would be ‘devastating’ and claims the council acted unlawfully by granting planning permission for the contentious project in November 2014. Ball’s papers were served in late January 2015, with a decision on whether he is given the opportunity to make his case due next month March.

Ball feels ‘particularly aggrieved at the manner in which this proposal and planning application has been handled by Lambeth and by other agencies of government, starting with private letters to Boris Johnson, bypassing both strategic planning and public procurement rules, and sustained by a flawed and inadequate planning scrutiny’.

Born near the site, Ball is also concerned the bridge would do significant harm to ‘one of the great promenades of Europe’. He said: ‘The best views of the City and St Paul’s will be compromised from Waterloo Bridge and entirely blocked along the South Bank’.

Lawyers for Ball are arguing that Lambeth Council failed to comply with its duty to protect the historic setting of listed buildings in the area, like Somerset House.

Solicitor Richard Stein from Leigh Day, the practice representing Ball, said: ‘This seems like a poorly thought through project which, although attractive at first glance, on reflection is seriously deficient in a number of important respects.

‘[We] are asking the court to quash the planning permission and to send the project back to Lambeth for much more careful consideration before such a significant change is made to the historic heart of London’.

First conceived by actor Joanna Lumley, the proposed 370m-long planted pedestrianised bridge has been criticised for its location, cost and restrictions of how it will be used.

Boris Johnson, who approved the project in December, said that the bridge would provide the city with a ‘fantastic new landmark’, while supporting regeneration and economic growth on both banks of the river, creating ‘a stunning oasis of tranquillity in the heart of our city’.

Earlier this month, the AJ revealed the private letter sent by Joanna Lumley to Johnson, writing that she and Thomas Heatherwick wished to meet the Mayor to discuss their plans for the ‘green pedestrian bridge, with cycle tracks alongside, with container-grown trees: and beauty and practicality in equal measure’.

The bridge, which has secured £60 million of taxpayer funding, no longer includes provisions for cyclists. Lumley told a Lambeth planning meeting last year that she alone was responsible for that decision, as it would limit the crossing being a ‘peaceful place to walk’.

Seven million crossings are expected to be made on the bridge each year.

Harry Zelenka Martin at the Garden Bridge Trust, played down the legal threats, telling the AJ: ‘We are completely business as usual here. It’s Lambeth’s process and we will carry on as normal until a decision has been made’.

The trust insists the project will ‘greatly benefit’ London, creating new routes across the river to avoid busy roads, and connect cultural centres and tourist attractions on both banks of the Thames.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • At last some action to stop this unnecessary abomination being constructed across the Thames, that will wreck the best views of the City from Waterloo Bridge -one of the most spectacular sights in London.
    The whole raison-d'etre of this romantic delusion which was 'an oasis of tranquility' and 'a peaceful place to walk' is an oxymoron for a bridge over which "Seven million crossings are expected to be made.. each year." In fact it will be a tourists' and Londoners' hell, with crowds of people,posh receptions for global corporations and the rich, a haven for criminals and noisy layabouts, and will be impossible to maintain without huge sums being spent on cleaning and security, a thorough misbegotten piece of planning and egotistical aspiration.
    London is full of beautiful parks and gardens, many oases already exist all over the place, to need another intended one which will never be what is suggested.

    This is the chance to stop this blunder from proceeding before millions are needlessly spent, (and millions more for a engineering monster that will take ages to build) and instead look at where London's and Lambeth's real needs lie.
    Public housing, community centres, nurseries, and even bridges built where they are really needed, both north and further south of Waterloo Bridge, where they will not ruin more of London's precious urban views and assets.

    Architects and planners everywhere, including the RIBA should join forces to oppose what is clearly a waste of money and resources, and what would be a planning catastrophe that will be hard to undo if it is ever built.

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  • It will be interesting to see the outcome of this legal challenge - to what appears to have been a quite extraordinary abuse of process - given the success of the legal challenge to what seems to be a similar bypass of procedure in Winchester.
    But whereas the Winchester affair appears to have been due to poor decisions by badly advised councillors, the London affair looks rather more toxic.

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