A Garden Bridge too far

Michael Ball has had his request for a judicial review granted“Dear Friends

I have this week received news that my request to the High Court  for a judicial review of the planning permission for the Garden Bridge has been granted, and that the case will be heard some time before the end of June.

I have been involved in planning matters for twenty years, but this is the first time I have personally sought a judicial review. I was spurred to do this by the overwhelming strength of feeling locally against this vanity project, and the abysmal failure of decision-makers to deal with the very obvious problems.

For those of you unfamiliar with the case, the proposal is to build a ‘garden bridge’ from near the Oxo tower on the South Bank to the Temple tube station on the north. Doesn’t that sound nice? The images are pretty. Many of us thought so until we examined the details.

The bridge will take pedestrians only – bikes are banned – but unlike the Millennium Bridge it will be a private highway with no right of way, closed at night and closed around twenty days a year for corporate events and the like. Access will be controlled, and although it is meant to be free, this may change in the future. It is unnecessary, since there are other bridges within 300 metres.

The ‘garden’ element consists of an area less than half a football pitch strung along the 300m bridge. There will be no grass to sit on and picnics are banned.  There are doubts about the ability of trees and shrubs to thrive in the relatively hostile environment in the middle of a large river, and the RSPB, London Wildlife Trust and the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association have all withdrawn their support.

A large retail building will stand where the bridge lands on the South Bank, destroying a rare piece of grassed open space almost the same size as the greened areas of the bridge, along with thirty mature trees.

At £175m it is extremely costly. By contrast, the Millennium Bridge cost £22m and a new pedestrian and cycle bridge at Nine Elms will cost £40m. A new park such as Jubilee Gardens – providing three times as much green space, and covered in picnickers – cost only £6m.

The cost might not matter if it were to be met by private donors, as originally proposed. But Boris Johnson and George Osborne have ‘donated’ £60m of public funds between them, and Boris has footed an additional £4m bill so far.  The running costs of the bridge are also staggeringly high at £3.5m annually, and Boris has agreed to underwrite this at a potential total cost of a further £90m.

Still, if money were no object, this might be a nice idea. But there are huge problems.

Firstly, the bridge will completely block views of St Paul’s from along the South Bank: one of the greatest urban riverwalks in Europe will have its best views closed down. The majestic sweep of open river at the heart of the capital will be lost. To illustrate this I have attached images below provided by the developers themselves.

Secondly, the bridge is expected to attract 7 million visitors annually, more than any other attraction in the UK (by comparison the London Eye gets 2.5m visitors annually, the British Museum 6m, and Disneyland Paris 9m). But the bridge can hold only 2,500 people, so long queues are predicted at busy times such as weekends and holidays. The South Bank is already very busy, and the developers admit that  at times it will become very uncomfortable in the vicinity of the bridge, with congestion akin to tube platforms in the rush hour.

In fact I am seriously concerned about public safety on very busy days, with visitors on the South Bank trapped at key pinch points between the garden bridge and the Millennium Bridge, where the riverwalk narrows to 2.5m at points. Football-match sized crowds will be generated on busy days – and yet, extraordinarily, the Metropolitan Police have not been consulted on the crowd management off the bridge.

Finally, on top of all of this, and most bizarrely, there will be no toilets provided whatsoever. Come to the South Bank, get a coffee in the huge retail building, queue for an hour for the UK’s busiest tourist attraction… but hold on to your bladder!

I have met a lot of people who have got increasingly concerned about this. We have formed a new group – Thames Central Open Spaces – and have been campaigning hard. Many powerful critical articles have appeared in the press such as this http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/architecture-design-blog/2015/mar/04/revealed-boris-johnson-duplicitous-handling-garden-bridge-london

But why did Lambeth Council grant planning permission for this bridge? Lambeth will suffer the brunt of the impact, with its best views trashed and all of the servicing and most of the construction taking place on the South Bank. The hundreds of Lambeth residents living close to the bridge will have their home life ruined. The rubbish alone will fill dozens of wheelie bins daily. It’s not as if the area needs another tourist attraction – it already has 22 arts facilities and 25 million visitors a year.


I have talked to decision-makers from the leaders of councils and chief officers to humble ward councillors and planning officials and I cannot find genuine support for the garden bridge. There is a general hope among decision-makers that it will just go away. And, with some honourable exceptions, there is a general fear not to be seen opposing it and be accused of being ‘anti-fun’.

But this project will not just go away. It has the powerful support of Boris Johnson, who has behaved simply bizarrely – most recently, publicly denying that he will underwrite the £90m running costs, while his chief officers write letters which have been submitted to the courts stating that he will indeed cover these costs.

My High Court challenge is to the granting of planning permission. Without this, the bridge cannot be built here – although it would be perfectly possible for its proponents to try and put in a more suitable location, such as further east, where river crossings are desperately needed.

The process is not free. I already have pledges of several thousand pounds, and I hope all the costs can be recovered through ‘crowdfunding’. If all the thousands of people who have signed petitions against the bridge gave a few pounds I would have all the costs covered. You can donate easily on line by going to http://www.everyclick.com/tcos  and I will get an additional 25% if you giftaid it (just click on the tab).

If anyone wants to help then please do get in touch. The best thing you can do is forward this email to your friends and talk about it, write about it, tweet about it, speak out about it, sign the on-line petition  and tell anyone who seeks your vote over the next few weeks what you think.

Sign the petition at https://www.change.org/p/eric-pickles-eric-pickles-put-the-garden-bridge-where-it-s-needed-without-using-public-funds-or-scrap-the-idea

Hopefully I’ll be back soon with better news.

All the best

Michael Ball

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.