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Taxpayer to fund £3.5m annual maintenance bill for London's Garden Bridge

'It's simply not a transport scheme' say opponents of bridge where groups of eight have to book and bikes can't travel...

The controversy over the so-called Garden Bridge in west London has deepened this week, with the news that the annual £3.5m maintenance bill will be the responsibility of the taxpayer.

Despite initial promises that the £175m bridge would be paid for by private sponsors, £60m of publc funds have been earmarked for the project and a Guardian investigation has uncovered the public liability for maintenance.

According to the paper, on Tuesday, Boris Johnson told LBC radio: “The maintenance cost will not be borne by the public sector, I’ve made that clear.”

But in the letter by one of his senior staff seen by the Guardian, another picture emerges: “The mayor has agreed in principle to provide such a guarantee … to secure the ongoing maintenance of the proposed bridge,” writes Fiona Fletch-Smith, director of development, enterprise and environment at the Greater London Authority.

This enormous public outlay comes in spite of the fact that bikes will be banned from the Garden Bridge.

As we recently reported, Joanna Lumley says that she is the person responsible for the decision to exclude cyclists from the proposed Garden Bridge across the Thames.

She argues that their presence would prevent it from being ‘a peaceful place to walk’. It will also be closed between midnight and 6am with groups of more than eight people having to apply for permission to visit.

Speaking at Lambeth's planning applications committee meeting, Lumley described a bucolic escape in the middle of the capital: “This will be a place where you can maybe slow down; hear birds singing; hear leaves rustling; get a little bit of calm; take the heat out of the situation.”

However, this oasis of calm will not be open to cyclists and Lumley says that she is the one responsible for that decision.

“Being a Lambeth resident and using the Tube, I walk a lot. I don’t walk in cycle lanes and that’s the reason why I – and I’m the only one you can blame for not having cycles on this bridge – I said that I believe that cyclists speeding over the bridge would stop it being a peaceful place to walk and a safe place maybe to take a wheelchair.”

John Biggs, Labour chair of the budget and performance committee said: “It’s outrageous to be spending this amount of the transport budget on something that is simply not a transport scheme,” said Biggs. “It’s a tourist attraction, in a place where there are already bridges ... London is crying out for crossings further east, as well as at Pimlico to Nine Elms.

"Boris’s focus has always been on glitzy vanity projects rather than what London actually needs.”

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.

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