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Garden Bridge: 'Not a Sure Thing'

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

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Plans to build the most expensive pedestrian bridge in the world are up in the air, according to various reports.

Plans for the Garden Bridge in London over the River Thames were first announced in late 2014, with costs predicted to be £175 million (about $274.6 million according to exchange rates at the time), making it the most expensive pedestrian bridge in the world. Its design includes a copper-nickel cladding that would reportedly keep the bridge maintenance-free for 120 years.

Garden Bridge rendering
Renderings: Garden Bridge Trust

The bridge, covered in vegetation, would span the Thames between the Waterloo Bridge and the Blackfriars Bridge, near landmarks like the National Theatre and the Tate Modern.

But after a tumultuous two years of debate and funding changes, the Garden Bridge Trust, which is in charge of the project, says its construction is still not a sure thing, with ballooning costs and lengthy delays, and if it were to be scrapped, taxpayers would forfeit millions in funding that’s already been spent.

Tourist Attraction

When first unveiled, the Garden Bridge was touted as a tourist attraction bringing in visitors from around the world. The 1,200-foot-long bridge would be covered in plants, bushes and 270 trees, and would span the Thames between the Waterloo Bridge and the Blackfriars Bridge, near landmarks like the National Theatre and the Tate Modern.

The bridge, designed by Heatherwick Studio with help from engineers at Arup and landscape architect Dan Pearson, was originally slated to be completed in 2018. Last year, the Trust awarded the construction contract to a joint venture of Bouygues Travaux Publics and Cimolai SpA, and said it planned for the bridge to open in 2019.

Funding Concerns

As early as 2015, though, the bridge plans had begun to unravel, as the London Assembly asked for an audit of then-London Mayor Boris Johnson’s plan to fund it. Originally, the plan included £30 million in funding from London and £30 million from the national treasury.

Garden Bridge rendering

The 1,200-foot-long bridge would be covered in plants, bushes and 270 trees.

By late 2015, the Garden Bridge Trust reduced its request for London taxpayer funding from £30 million to £10 million, but the remaining £20 million was to be loaned to the project by Transport for London, and repaid over 50 years.

In 2016, new London Mayor Sadiq Khan set up an inquiry into the bridge project’s use of public funds, but also noted that he believed the project shouldn’t be cancelled, as it would cost more to can the idea than it would to build. He estimated the cancellation of the project would incur a cost of £40 million to taxpayers.

Document Reveal Doubts

On Jan. 10, the Garden Bridge Trust filed its accounts, showing that it had spent £26 million on “pre-construction work” between October 2015 and March 2016. Most of that was money coming from Transport for London.

The Trustee’s Report included in the filing concludes, though, that the bridge still isn’t a sure thing.

“Trustees are unable to conclude that the Trust is a going concern and feel it only appropriate to flag these risks in this report,” the introductory letter reads. While the trustees hope the uncertainties involved—securing private funding, securing land rights, and getting the new mayor to commit to bridge maintenance and operations—will be resolved soon, they recognize that if not, “they will need to consider the further delay to the project, and in the worst case scenario, whether the project remains viable.”

Moving Forward

The chairman of the Trust, Lord Mervyn Davies, concludes by saying that the trustees “look forward to starting construction in 2017 and making the Garden Bridge happen.”

Not everyone is looking forward to it, however.

The Guardian quotes two members of the Greater London Assembly who think public funds should be pulled before any more money is wasted on a bridge they believe will never be built.

The Labour Party’s Tom Copley called on the mayor to refuse to commit to maintenance costs on what he called “a development on the verge of collapse."


Tagged categories: Architects; Bridges; Color + Design; Construction; Engineers; Funding; Government; Landscape architects

Comment from Jesse Melton, (1/18/2017, 11:24 AM)

They could get the costs into a more publicly accepted range if they weren't making claims of 150 maintenance free years. That kind of timeline sounds kind of plausible here in the US because there isn't a lot of stuff that old to make long term comparisons with. England, and London in particular, has been dealing with claims like that a long time and they've got a surplus of examples to point to. The Tower of London should be good for at least 1,000 years and the Palace of Westminster should be immune to anything but an angry Sumerian deity what hath wax wode wrothe upon the city for their horrific food. The super long timelines are never going to be realized and it puts anyone who foresees themselves in public service in 10 years on shaky ground.

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