London Assembly members voted 11-3 in support of a motion calling on Mayor Boris Johnson to remove Transport for London (TfL) funding for a project that “serves no transport function”.
The Garden Bridge is designed as a pedestrian crossing that will be planted with 270 trees, 2,000 shrubs, hedging plants and climbers, over 22,000 hardy perennials, ferns and grasses and 64,000 bulbs. Though much of the money is being raised through donations to the Garden Bridge Trust, the Treasury and Transport for London have each pledged £30m of public money.
Liberal democrat member Caroline Pidgeon, who proposed the motion, said: “There are many locations along the Thames, from Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf, where there is a far more pressing need for a bridge serving pedestrians and cyclists than the site of the Garden Bridge.
“If the objective of the Garden Bridge is to improve London’s public spaces then it is folly to cut down more than 30 mature trees and reduce much valued open space on the south bank. £60 million of public funding could be far better spent improving numerous parks and open spaces across the capital.
“At the same time it is vital that an independent audit is carried out looking into the whole procurement process as there are serious questions about how the design contract was awarded.”
Labour transport spokesperson Valerie Shawcross, who seconded the motion, said: “We’ve seen overwhelming opposition to the Garden Bridge from all parts of our community and yet millions of pounds of TfL and GLA funds are being eaten away by this unwanted project.
“The Garden Bridge was sold to Londoners as a transport project and yet it fails to guarantee public right of way or step free access and there’s no provision for cycling. Local residents will undoubtedly feel the impact of increasing numbers of tourists in what is already a congested area and it’s likely we’ll see the fine open vista of the river and St Pauls cluttered and obscured.
“It is wholly inappropriate to spend £30 million of TfL funds on what is essentially a tourist attraction which offers little in terms of actual infrastructure.
“This is money which should be allocated to genuine transport projects, including building river crossings where they are actually needed, such as in East London. A full audit of the Garden Bridge procurement process is entirely right if the public are to have any faith in this project.”
The Garden Bridge Trust, the charity responsible for construction and long-term maintenance of the new London landmark, last month selected a Franco-Itallian joint venture of Bouygues TP and Cimolai to build the bridge.
The Bouygues-Cimolai JV is working up design priorities and methods, to be submitted to lead consultant Arup this month. Full design and construction plans are expected to be submitted to Garden Bridge Trust for approval in August and the construction contract formally awarded in September.
However, Caroline Pidgeon is more concerned about how Thomas Heatherwick was gifted the design commission despite having no architectural or engineering credentials. Although he employs some qualified construction professionals, Heatherwick himself is an industrial designer and artist who achieved celebrity for designing the London 2012 Olympic cauldron. He also designed a 56-metre high sculpture called 'B of the Bang', at the City of Manchester Stadium in 2005. It was made of 180 steel spikes but when the spikes started to come loose it had to be taken down.
Under the envisaged programme for constructing the Garden Bridge, worksites will be established on each bank of the Thames in January 2016, but there will be limited construction work on south bank until September 2016, later than originally proposed to reduce impact on the area. Installation of working platforms to construct cofferdams for the two bridge piers will begin from February 2016, with the first piles sunk into the river bed during that summer. Work to build the landing stage on the south bank will start in late 2016, alongside construction of the north and south bridge piers.
The main structure will be fabricated in sections in Cimolai’s manufacturing facility in Italy. Bridge sections will be transported by sea to the UK, staged at Tilbury for partial assembly, and then brought by barge along the Thames to the Garden Bridge site to be lifted into place. According to the Garden Bridge Trust, it will open in June 2018.
The full text of the motion backed by the London Assembly reads: “This Assembly notes with concern the many objections to the proposed Garden Bridge from a wide variety of individuals and organisations, from the Taxpayers’ Alliance to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Objections have been raised over: the proximity to other crossings, the blocking of historic views of the Thames, the procurement process, the lack of cycling provision, the lack of a guaranteed right of way or step free access, the loss of over 30 mature trees on the South Bank, and the GLA underwriting ongoing maintenance costs running into millions.
“This Assembly believes that, with no cycling provision or guaranteed public right of way and given the proximity to other bridges, the project serves no transport function, and it is therefore inappropriate that £30 million of Transport for London money has been committed to it.
“This Assembly further believes that the public money earmarked for the project would be much better allocated to pedestrian/cycle river crossings where there is a genuine transport need, such as the proposed Brunel Bridge at Rotherhithe/Canary Wharf, or spent creating and improving green public spaces in other parts of the city.
“This Assembly therefore calls on the Mayor to agree to a full, independent audit of the procurement process, and to withdraw TfL funds from the project.”