Supporters of the controversial Garden Bridge have been given a boost after Lambeth Council agreed to resume talks over it following confirmation that the financial contribution to the project by Transport for London (TfL) will be limited to £10 million, a third of the sum originally envisaged.
The news has prompted Sadiq Khan, Labour candidate for next year’s mayoral election, to withdraw his opposition to the project after he had initially said he would scrap it if he were elected.
In September, Lambeth Council said it was suspending discussions regarding the landing site at the planned bridge’s southern landing point, which it owns and currently leases to Coin Street Community Builders.
The council’s leader, Lib Peck, maintained it wanted assurances from Mayor of London Boris Johnson that TfL money – the Treasury had similarly pledged £30 million – would not be used to help pay for the bridge, designed by Thomas Heatherwick and championed by the actress, Joanna Lumley.
At the time, Councillor Peck explained: “I have consistently said, during a time of severe spending cuts putting £30 million worth of public funding towards this new bridge” – on which cycling would be banned” – isn’t justified.
“So while it might have other merits, it is surely wrong for TfL to issue a blank cheque, particularly given the financial pressures they face from the Chancellor.”
But in a press release issued jointly by the Garden Bridge Trust and Lambeth Council today, she said: “I’m pleased that Londoners are getting a better financial deal particularly at a time of austerity when all public sector organisations are being forced to make deep cuts to services.
“We’ve been in tough negotiations with the Garden Bridge Trust and Transport for London and I’m pleased we’ve successfully agreed a deal that will cut London taxpayers’ contribution towards the Garden Bridge by two thirds.”
A close look at the press release reveals that the issue isn’t as straightforward as that; while TfL’s financing of the project will be capped at £10 million, it may well provide more than that amount at the outset, with the balance repaid over time.
Garden Bridge Trust chairman, Lord Mervyn Davies, commented: “We are delighted to move forward with the project.
“We have been hugely successful in our efforts to raise funds from the private sector, with £85 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.
“We are delighted the Garden Bridge can now progress and are grateful for all the support we’ve had,” he added.
The planned bridge has attracted vocal opposition from the outset due to issues such as the ban on cycling, the restriction of iconic views across the river to the City, the fact it would be closed for several hours each night and on several evenings a year for private events, as well as the use of public money to help finance the project.
There was further good news for champions of the project after Mr Khan, whose earlier opposition to the bridge would have put its future in serious doubt if he were to win May’s election for City Hall, gave his backing to the scheme in the wake of today’s announcement.
“This is a much better deal for Londoners,” said Mr Khan, reports the Guardian. “We’ve been able to secure an agreement which will allow the garden bridge to proceed while saving up to £20 million of Londoners’ hard-earned money."
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.