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Garden Bridge Shows Signs of Life

Friday, November 6, 2015

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Despite being classified by many as an unneeded vanity project, London’s controversial Garden Bridge project appears to have gotten a new lease on life.

The Garden Bridge Trust announced Monday (Nov. 2) that it and the Lambeth town council had reached an agreement regarding the amount of public funding needed from Transport for London (TfL), the agency in charge of the bridge program, for construction.

Dropping the taxpayer contribution from the £30 million (US$45.6 million) originally pledged by TfL to £10 million (US$15.2 million) not only wins more public support, reports say, but also means the group can resume negotiations for the bridge’s south landing site in Lambeth, the Trust said in its statement.

Arup
Photos: Arup

An agreement to cut the anticipated taxpayer contribution slated for bridge construction by two-thirds enables project planning to move forward.

The south landing of the Garden Bridge would need to touch down on land Lambeth Council owns that is currently leased to Coin Street Community Builders. For bridge construction to start, the terms of the lease must be amended for the land transfer.

However, Lambeth Council halted those land negotiations were in September, pointing to concerns about the amount of public funding required for the plan.

Citing the new reduction, Lambeth council leader Lib Peck stated, “We’ve been in tough negotiations with the Garden Bridge Trust and Transport for London and I’m pleased we’ve successfully agreed [on] a deal that will cut London taxpayers’ contribution towards the Garden Bridge by two thirds.”

The Trust expects to start work on the site in early 2016.

Funding the Bridge

With this reduction in public funding, the Trust indicates the balance of the required money will be collected from the private sector, future revenues or even additional funds from TfL.

Any money spent over the £10 million contribution will be treated like a loan that will be paid back over time, according to Chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust, Lord Mervyn Davies.

“We have been hugely successful in our efforts to raise funds from the private sector, with £85 million [US$129.3 million] pledged to date, and we have agreed that any of the committed funds from TfL spent over the £10 million will be treated as a loan,” he said.

“We are delighted the Garden Bridge can now progress and are grateful for all the support we’ve had.”

Arup

With the reduction in public funding, the Trust plans to collect the balance needed from the private sector, future revenues or even additional loans from TfL.

Questions have been raised about the terms of such a loan. Architects’ Journal shared confirmation from the Trust Thursday (Nov. 4) that that the repayment period will be over 50 years beginning on the date the bridge opens. 

However, some, like Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat group leader on the London Assembly, worry about whether such a longer-term lone is realistic: “A 50-year loan to the Garden Bridge Trust raises the question of whether the money will actually be repaid.”

“The Garden Bridge serves no practical purpose so taxpayers will be deeply concerned to hear that it will take 50 years for their money to be paid back,” Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said in the Journal.

“It is the responsibility of politicians to make sure that taxpayers get value for their hard-earned cash so legitimate questions have to be asked about the validity of this absurd vanity project,” he added.

On the other side, London’s Labour candidate for mayor, Sadiq Khan, who had publicly vowed to scrap the project if he takes office next year, has changed position based on the funding reduction. He calls the new arrangement “a much better deal for Londoners,” saving their “hard-earned money," The Guardian reported Monday.

Continuing Objections

But even with this funding resolution and the renewed hope by some for a new city landmark, not all concerns have not been put to rest.

Conservative London Assembly member Andrew Boff remained vocal in his opposition: “It’s a vanity project and I haven’t got a clue how we have got so far with it,” he said in Architects’ Journal.

Like others, Boff expressed that there are certainly many other projects in London that would benefit from a loan of that size with a 50-year repayment schedule. He added: “The bridge is in a place we don’t need it, solves a problem we don’t have at a price we can’t afford.”

Arup

The £175 million bridge, designed by Thomas Heatherwick, is envisioned as a public garden above the water.

Pidgeon is seeking clarification from London Mayor Boris Johnson on how much TfL has already spent, how much it would lend over the committed £10 million, and whether the mayor’s office will finance future maintenance costs, The Guardian said.

Responding to critics’ concerns like these earlier this summer, the London Assembly put the brakes on the mayor’s plan to fast track the project, instead insisting that Johnson "carry out a full audit" of the project.

Noted objections included: the proximity to other crossings, the blocking of historic views, the procurement process, the lack allowance for cycling, the lack of a guaranteed right of way or step-free access, the cutting down of more than 30 mature trees on the South Bank, and ongoing maintenance costs expecting to run into the millions.

An 'Enchanted Space'

The £175 million (US$266 million) bridge, designed by Thomas Heatherwick, is envisioned as a public garden above the water. The 366-meter (122-foot) pedestrian footbridge crossing the Thames and connecting Lambeth and Westminster would be an “enchanted space in the middle of a busy city,” the project website says, filled with native plants, trees and shrubs.

The bridge itself will be clad in a specially developed copper-nickel alloy coating usually reserved for ship propellers and medical equipment but able to stand up to the river environment.

Covering the underside of the bridge, the alloy will reportedly keep the structure maintenance-free for 120 years. Additionally, its warm color will provide a contrasting finish to the stone and steel structures that make up the architecture on both sides of the river.

   

Tagged categories: Bridges; Design; Europe; Funding; Program/Project Management; Roof gardens

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