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Bridge at point where new crossing desperately needed would open to allow ships to pass through

Plans have been unveiled for a pedestrian and cycling bridge across the River Thames in London linking Canary Wharf and Rotherhithe, with a ground-breaking design that also owes much to Tower Bridge, the next surface crossing upstream.

Like that iconic landmark, the proposed new bridge is based on a bascule design – it will open in the middle to allow ships to pass underneath – and according to the people behind the project, would be the longest such structure in the world.

At an estimated cost of £88 million, it wouldn't be cheap, although as the Guardian points out, that’s half the cost of the Garden Bridge championed by Joanna Lumley, and from which cycling would be banned.

Moreover, it links two parts of London that are increasingly in need of a river crossing as development around Canary Wharf continues, with many workers in the financial centre, also home to a sizeable shopping mall and a huge number of catering outlets, commuting there from south London.

While the counterweights for Tower Bridge are housed in the base of the two towers that give the structure its unique silhouette, those in the proposed Rotherhithe Bridge would instead be formed by the two masts.

“The result,” says Guardian architecture critic, Oliver Wainwright, “is an exceptionally lean structure, which looks like a pair of whale bones held in fine balance.”

 

The design is the work of architectural practice ReForm and engineering consultancy Elliott Wood, and would be at a point on the river where the Sustrans has been calling for a bridge for the best part of a decade.

The sustainable transport charity become aware of the design for the proposed bridge after being given £200,000 last year by Transport for London, British Land and Canary Wharf Group to undertake a feasibility study and has reportedly made it their preferred option.

- Thames cycling and walking bridge a step closer to becoming a reality

Nik Randall of ReForm said: “It’s a no-brainer. It has the potential to unlock journeys way beyond the surrounding area, encouraging people to cycle to work who might not ever have considered it before.”

ReForm and Elliott Ward are now looking for private investment to fund the scheme, with the Guardian noting that corporate sponsorship from one of the financial institutions housed at Canary Wharf would seem a realistic option.

Randall said: “It has been met with universal support and enthusiasm so far, although we’ve yet to secure any confirmed backers.”

It does have a degree of high-profile support, though. Mayor of London Boris Johnson has tweeted “still in negotiations but we love the scheme”, while the National Infrastructure Plan developed by Chancellor George Osborne last year says it is “an interesting proposal and worth looking at in more detail.”

- Government says cycling bridge across Thames to Canary Wharf "worth looking at"

Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon told the Guardian: “A pedestrian and cycling bridge linking Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf would provide a vital link where at present there is a total lack of adequate provision for pedestrians and cyclists.”

”Unlike the Garden Bridge this is a bridge that is desperately needed and where public money should be spent.

“I also welcome interest from architects in designing a new bridge, however it is vital that unlike the Garden Bridge the design contract is only awarded after a fully open and fair competitive procurement process.”

- Boost to Garden Bridge plans as Lambeth resumes talks after TfL reduces funding

As Wainwright points out in his article, the procurement process over the Garden Bridge was a controversial one, with the winning design apparently picked before tenders had even been received.

However, Randall acknowledges that in the event that public money was required to build his bridge, a full and open public procurement process might put his firm at a disadvantage.

“If it went through a public procurement route, we very much hope we would be eligible to enter, but smaller practices are excluded from this kind of thing all the time,” he explained.

 “EU procurement rules are based on the fears of the people being audited about the process, rather than what the physical result of the process will be. It so often precludes people with better ideas, which stifles innovation and new faces.”

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.