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Support for the Garden bridge

This article was first published in Construction News on 22 December 2014 and can be found online here.

A new charity, the Garden Bridge Trust, has applied for planning permission for a pedestrian footbridge across the River Thames linking Temple London Underground Station directly with an area of land on the southern embankment in front of ITV Studios.

The bridge is said to be the brainchild of Joanna Lumley. Unusually, but emulating recently constructed public walkways in Paris and New York, the copper clad bridge is intended to be planted with a mix of 270 trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants and grasses.

Two piers in the river will provide structural support for what is being termed the Garden Bridge? the area above the piers will be used predominantly for tree planting with lower growing species along the remainder of the bridge. Cycling will not be permitted on the bridge. Estimated to cost some £170m, making it the most expensive footbridge in the world, the project hopes to attract £60m of public funding from central government and Transport for London.

Both Westminster and Lambeth Council have recently decided that the bridge should be granted planning permission, but the final decision on whether it got approval was made by the mayor of London.

His decision to approve came as no surprise as he has been a keen supporter. After giving it Boris Johnson claimed it would be an "oasis of tranquillity" in the heart of the capital.

Those who support the Garden Bridge say in its favour that it will have the following benefits:

  • It will reduce severance and contribute towards an increase in north-south movements across the Thames by foot.
  • It will contribute towards improving the quality of the pedestrian environment and public realm in Central London.
  • It will improve transport connectivity for the South Bank area by providing a direct connection to the London Underground network at Temple Station.
  • It will support the economic development of areas adjoining the bridge.
  • It will support Central London’s visitor and tourist economy.
  • It will create a new public open space and garden in Central London.

For what appears to be an exciting and innovative project, the Garden Bridge has attracted a fair number of opponents.

Chief amongst their concerns is that the bridge is not going to be a public facility: access said to be ticketed, picnics will allegedly be prohibited and the bridge will be closed at night. Cyclists obviously oppose their exclusion from its use. There remain concerns as to how its estimated maintenance of £3.5m per year will be funded.

More significantly, opponents also say the bridge will impact on views both of the river and across to St Pauls from the South Bank: were this a purely commercial venture such visual impact would undoubtedly be considered unacceptable.

More locally there are concerns about the impact that the structure of the bridge will have on the Edwardian Temple tube station. Strategically, opponents are also saying that if public money is to be invested in another Thames crossing this is not the correct location. Instead it should be to the east of Tower Bridge, where there is a real need to improve north-south connectivity and provide impetus for regeneration.

Whilst still on course to open in 2018, at a time of spending cuts it remains uncertain whether this project will actually go ahead or not.