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Morrell: Garden Bridge challenge ‘only an annoyance’

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A High Court decision to allow a legal challenge against Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge will not hamper the £175m project, according to the government’s former chief construction adviser

Paul Morrell, who is currently deputy chairman of scheme backers the Garden Bridge Trust, told AJ’s sister title Construction News that he did not expect the judicial review of  Lambeth Council’s handling of the planning approval for the scheme to delay the project.

‘I do not expect [the case] to change our timeline,’ he said. ‘It is only an annoyance.’

At the end of last month, campaigner Michael Ball was granted leave to challenge the council’s planning approval on the grounds of the consideration given to its impact on historic buildings and views of the capital.

Judge Mr Justice Mitting refused to allow the challenge to consider ongoing maintenance issues related to the bridge, however Ball’s legal team said it would seek a review of that decision at a hearing later this month.

The judicial review itself is due to be heard before June 19, with a decision expected within weeks.

Morrell said that while he respected the review process, he did not believe the challenge had merit.

‘Between now and June we will do exactly what we were going to do, so assuming the judicial review fails it will not affect our programme at all,’ he said.

The Garden Bridge Trust is due to announce its contractor for the project later this month, with a view to starting work in January next year and opening the bridge to the public in 2018.

A key issue for the project is avoiding a construction clash with work on the £4.2bn Thames Tideway Tunnel, which is due to start in 2017.

Last year Morrell told AJ he was keen for work on the bridge to start in 2015 to avoid disruption caused by the Tideway Tunnel Project, with the piling and central section of the bridge between Temple and South Bank particular areas of focus.

If the Judicial Review challenge into Lambeth’s planning approval is successful, it will quash the council’s permission granted in October 2014 and would be likely to require new appraisals before the bridge could again go before councillors for a decision – a process likely to take months.

Lambeth’s planning decision applied to only the southern section of the bridge, with a separate approval covering its northern section granted by Westminster City Council in December.


Previous story (AJ 17.02.2015)

Legal challenge launched over ‘devastating’ garden bridge plans

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 (1)

  • As a river crossing the final decision on permission here is made by the mayor of London. If the review does send the project back to the planning authority then this would mean that the existing decision by the mayor would no longer stand. This in turn would mean that even if Westminster passed a second planning application a further decision by a potentially different mayor would then be required. many of the mayoral candidates would not pass it and some have also stated that they would overturn the existing decision. The main issue with the tideway tunnel 'clash' is simply an increase in river traffic which will be carrying spoil - this is inconvenient but not a show stopper. Elsewhere the complications of political moves is influencing the decision makers. For instance I suspect that those who advocate the bridge are hoping that Boris either fails to become an MP or the conservatives win a good majority, ensuring Cameron remains PM. If Boris becomes an MP in May, and Cameron fails to get a majority, there is the potential of Boris becoming the leader of the conservatives and even PM. A new mayor will be elected this year, before the garden bridge starts on site, and they may overturn the existing decision - there is a real possibility that it will never happen.... Perhaps the rush to start construction is more to do with politics than any technical coordination with the Thames Tideway Tunnel?

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