The London Assembly (GLA) has called on Mayor of London Boris Johnson to order a full, independent inquiry into the procurement process behind the controversial Garden Bridge project, and to withdraw proposed Transport for London (TfL) funding of £30 million towards the estimated £175 million cost.
This morning at City Hall, assembly members debated a motion proposed by Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon over the Thomas Heatherwick designed scheme linking the South Bank to the Temple, which has been championed by the actress Joanna Lumley, and which is the subject of a judicial review.
The motion read:
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.
Other objections raised by opponents include that it will be closed at night and for corporate events, create dangerous overcrowding at either end, and that despite plans to build it partly using public money - £30 million from TfL, and £30 million from the Treasury - it is a tourist attraction rather than transport infrastructure.
Questions were raised by the Observer newspaper last month about the validity of the procurement process that saw Heatherwick Studio appointed.
Heatherwick has long championed by Lumley, who is a trustee of the Garden Bridge Trust, as the favoured candidate to design it, despite having much less relevant experience than the two unsuccessful bidders.
In passing today’s motion by a margin of 11 votes to three, the London Assembly joins opponents of the scheme including author Will Self, who has described it as “crap,” and Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry, who tweeted: “It seems like a nice idea that is in the wrong place and for the wrong people. They should build it in Hull.”
“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,”Pidgeon said after today’s vote.
"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’s 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.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.