The Garden Bridge – Surely a Vanity Project?

Most Londoners will have heard about the proposed “Garden Bridge”, even if the rest of the country has not. But I have not commented on it before. This would be primarily a pedestrian bridge between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge (near the Temple to the South Bank). As its name suggests, it would be planted with trees and wild flowers. It would not be publicly owned but be owned by a private limited company (registered as a charity) and may support buildings. It is also likely be closed some days of the year for private events to help pay for it. Note that not even cyclists will be able to use the bridge without dismounting.

What is the cost of this project and who is paying? The latest estimate seems to be about £185 million when it was originally £60m. A lot of the cash is coming from private donations, but £60m has been granted by the Department for Transport and Transport for London (i.e. taxpayers money). Indeed a lot of that money has already been spent on design work, even though the project may not go ahead. The cost of maintenance of the bridge is also of concern, and who will pay for it if it does not prove viable (it might well fall back on public funds in that case).

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is reviewing the project and the National Audit Office has previously criticised the financial justification for the bridge.

Perhaps the best demolition of this project was written by Giles Fraser in the normally tree loving pages of the Guardian. He said: “Garlic bread? Cheese cake? Some combos just sound wrong, according to the famous skit from the Bolton comedian Peter Kay. So we can assume that he would happily expose the vainglorious stupidity involved in combining a garden and a bridge. Still, he may not have to, for Mervyn Davies, chair of the Garden Bridge Trust, did a pretty good job in the Times this week, arguing that the building of a green-topped concrete bridge over the Thames, from the South Bank to Temple tube, would constitute a much needed economic boost to ‘areas in need of regeneration’. Would that be the Royal Courts of Justice and all those poverty-stricken barristers’ chambers? Or the National Theatre? Waterloo station? Or the South Bank, with IBM and ITV?”

My comments: I can certainly think of lots of better things to spend £185 million on (and that’s assuming the cost does not escalate further as such projects tend to do). According to the BBC, Boris Johnson became a strong supporter after being lobbied by Ms Lumley who has known him since childhood. But surely this is just another of Boris’s vanity projects like the Emirates Cable Car, and his promotion of cycling, with any measurement of the cost effectiveness of the project being left out.

If someone could advise me what the cost per pedestrian trip will be over say the next ten years, taking into account the capital and maintenance costs I would be interested. I was unable to find any such information.

But I am pretty certain that those who live outside the metropolis, and even those of us who might very occasionally use this bridge, could find lots of better uses for the money. Perhaps there should be a user toll to pay for it like that proposed for the Silvertown Tunnel?

Roger Lawson

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