The Garden Bridge (2)

I realise from the ferocity of the comments on my post about the Garden Bridge what strong feelings it arouses.

I would merely comment:-

1.  As attentive readers of my blog will have read, the idea of a bridge between Temple and the South Bank dates back to the 1940s when it first appeared as an aspiration in the 1943 County of London plan.

2.  Much of the thrust of the book published by Mark Fisher and Richard Rogers on The New London in 1992 relates to the opportunities provided by the deindustrialisation of the Thames and the benefits of treating it as a central artery to be enjoyed and appreciated instead of us just turning our backs on it.

3.  The exhibition organised by Peter Murray at the Royal Academy in 1996 floated the idea of Living Bridges, which could be inhabited rather than treated as a way of getting from A to B.

4.  The area between Blackfriars and Charing Cross can feel slightly dead.   Someone told me that Temple underground station is the least used on the network, which I find hard to believe, but is suggestive that Aldwych, Somerset House and Temple could benefit from more convenient access.

5.   As I understand it, the bulk of the funding is private apart from an initial investment of £30 million from the Treasury.   So, it costs the public purse £30 million which is not disproportionate.

All of this is a way of saying that it represents more than the childhood dream of Joanna Lumley.


16 thoughts on “The Garden Bridge (2)

  1. Ivan Gaskell says:

    As a New Yorker, this is the first I have heard of this clearly touchy subject. Are there not stretches of defunct raised rail line that you could turn into linear gardens as a possible alternative? In Manhattan (where I live) the High Line–just such a converted rail line–has been a huge success. Perhaps it could inspire folks in London.

    • I think that the Garden Bridge may be a subliminal response to the High Line. It’s motivated by some of the same ideas: how to bring nature into the centre of the city and provide a place of weekend recreation. Charles

      • Edwin Heathcote in the FT points out that the High Line is a victim of its own popularity:

        “The comparison that is often made is to New York’s High Line. It is erroneous. The High Line involved the greening of existing industrial infrastructure, bringing a slither of park to a part of the city with very little public space while maintaining and enhancing the industrial nature of the area. This part of London — with the South Bank, the Embankment and Temple Gardens — is generously provided with actual (rather than cosmetic) public space. But in other ways the comparison is useful.

        The High Line has become a victim of its own popularity. It was a wonderful idea — affording a new perspective on the city — but now a weekend walk along its elevated platform is a purgatory, a crush of rush-hour proportions. What was conceived as a pleasant place for a stroll or an urban jog is now a human traffic jam, strictly for out-of-towners and tourists. It is about an idea of a city — not about the city itself.”

        From “Openings: Troubled bridge over water” Edwin Heathcote, Financial Times, February 5, 2016

        Remember that the High Line is far more spacious (about 8 times longer) than the Garden Bridge.

  2. The idea of a garden bridge is hugely attractive and the responses to your first blog hard to fathom. Like the Millennium Bridge it stands to increase pedestrian flow between the South Bank (already heavily frequented) and the area adjacent to Covent Garden and Theatreland (ditto), perhaps thereby even to create another, and welcome, centre of gravity for London’s pedestrian traffic. My concern is lest this is not sufficiently anticipated for the bridge (unlike the shopping precinct at St Pancras Station) to provide enough space for the many people who decide to enjoy London’s latest park on a sunny weekend.

  3. No ! I think that it will be generally welcomed, and will be widely praised after it is finally built, not least because it will place the work of Thomas Heatherwick ( RA !) right in the heart of this great city. He is a designer of huge talent and imagination and his work will enrich central London, and the River.

  4. Christopher Nevile says:

    At the moment when crossing any of the existing bridges, even the infamous wobbly one, the visitor is held in a difficult position. They are there to cross the Thames but almost always to witness and appreciate the river itself. Yet she is such a dangerous and attractive siren that we must be barriered and funnelled towards the other side.There is something rather wonderful about the idea of visitors to the River and to the Garden being able to respond in a more engaged way to both. It will be wonderful to be able to take ones time, smell the flowers and watch the river flow… I agree with Mark that once its there it will be immensely popular.

    • Dear Christopher, Very well put ! I’m glad the argument is swining in the other direction. Thomas Heatherwick made the point that the Thames is more than twice as wide as the Seine, so tends to divide the city more than unite it. Charles

  5. Hello Charles,

    You have some critical information incorrect.

    “The area between Blackfriars and Charing Cross can feel slightly dead”. This area is one of the richest parts of the country and I am not sure why it needs public money for ‘regeneration’. Irregardless, there are huge numbers of developments already happening there with luxury penthouses and prime office space which will bring some ‘life’, and they are happening irrespective of the bridge.

    “So, it costs the public purse £30 million which is not disproportionate.”
    No, it is £60m up front to the public purse and we also underwrite the annual £3.5m maintenance cost. The Garden Bridge Trust have a totally discredited business plan which will only further leave the public, and TfL, to future liabilities.

    I wonder if you would like me to come and have a meeting to discuss the Garden Bridge in more detail. Genuinely, an offer.

    There is a lot, lot, lot more to it than your rather short blogposts indicate. is a good place to start.

  6. John Summerson says:

    Dear Charles
    I don’t think it is right that public money be committed, nor a spade put in the riverbed, while the unprecedented call from the RIBA for an independent enquiry into the design procurement goes unheeded by the Mayor of London. Perhaps you could use your influence to encourage a proper design competition at this eleventh hour? By considering only one idea for this prime location we will simply never know what might have been, and it sends a terrible signal to the design community. A bridge in that location was not even remotely close to being a priority so the whole thing feels like 18th century patronage, with public money, of the fantasy of a politically well-connected private individual with a reputation as a fearsome lobbyist of politicians.

  7. Dan Anderson says:

    If by “the element of fantasy and surrealism” you are referring to the constant drip feed of half-truths, misdirection and vacant spin that comes from the Garden Bridge Trust then, yes, that does explain much of the hostility.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Will Jennings’ excellent post above and would add the following comments:

    1. Point taken about the County of London Plan (1943), The New London (1992), and the RA Exhibition on Living Bridges (1996). I think we can agree, however, that the South Bank in 2016 is nothing remotely like it was in the 1990s much less the 1940s. I probably would have supported the Bridge concept in 1995. Today, it is not only superfluous, but potentially damaging. This is now one of London’s great destinations, in large part because it is one of those few places in which residents, tourists and day-to-day workers happily coexist. It is, today, one of the world’s great pedestrian promenades. Three quarters of overseas tourists already go there and surveys consistently show that simply strolling along the river is one of the main reasons they go there. The Garden Bridge will not only bring an uncomfortable volume of additional people, but it simultaneously creates a physical bottleneck in the worst possible place. If you do not think that this is a risk, then ask yourself this: when is the last time that your stroll along the South Bank extended as far as County Hall? As residents, we have learned to avoid that bit of the South Bank because of the tourist crush. It’s tolerable at County Hall because it anchors one end of the promenade. It’s easy to avoid. The Garden Bridge will bring that same unpleasant crowding straight into the middle of the South Bank, wrecking the atmosphere, felling the trees and destroying the views that already make it so special.

    2. On the “deadness” of the embankment between Blackfriars and Charing Cross, I can only recycle a well-worn pop culture reference. It is a problem in the same way that “my diamond shoes are too tight and my wallet is too small for my fifties”.

    3. Will is absolutely right about the funding too. £30 million comes from Treasury, partly by way of waived VAT. But waived VAT is not ‘found money’ as the GBT would have us believe; not if a proper set of genuine alternatives had been considered and that same dispensation made available to all of them. £10 million is a grant from Transport for London, which has mostly been spent. £20 million has been pledged as a 50-year low interest “loan” from TfL to the Trust. But this is purely window dressing, because the GLA has simultaneously provided a guarantee on the operating costs, which includes any loan repayment (principal and interest). So it is not a real loan by any stretch of the imagination. Bear in mind also, that the London Eye is only still with us because British Airways wrote off all of its outstanding debt — it otherwise wouldn’t be viable, and that’s with 3.5 million visits at a £20 adult price. So the idea that the Garden Bridge, selling t-shirts and tat and hosting 12 “diamond-shoes” galas a year will pay its £3 million running costs AND repay a £20 million loan is just the height of “fantasy and surrealism”.

    4. If the Bridge is solvent in operation (which is a big IF), the 1:2 ratio of £60 million public funding to £120 million private sponsorship is still extraordinarily poor value for money if it leads to an inefficient allocation of the public resource. Put differently, even with a perfectly achievable ratio 1:0.5 (i.e. £90 million total), we could have built THREE other bridges (with equal emphasis on form and function) in areas where the resulting economic impact would have been greater — but not a little bit greater; orders of magnitude greater.

    I appreciate, Mr Saumarez Smith, that much of your information about the project will have come from a Garden Bridge spin machine running at full throttle for the fundraising event you attended. Some of the information you quote comes straight out of the Heatherwick stump speech. (I expect that you also heard that hilaaaaarious gag about the centre of London being a park bench on the embankment). Be aware that so much of what is circulated by the Trust is scandalously inaccurate to the point of being mendacious.

    I really do urge you to take up Will’s offer to discuss it in detail.

  8. Michael Ball says:

    Charles the depressing thing about your response (and Mark Fisher et al) is the failure to see the paucity of the design. It lands on the north side with a truncated clunk. It lands on the south side with a massive commercial building looking like a bus garage (and the rents flowing from this won’t contribute towards the upkeep of the bridge, but goes to Lambeth and Coin St Community Builders as payment on the ransom strip of land they own). At the centre of the bridge is a narrowing to 5m that will generate a bottleneck so bad that Transport for London themselves estimate that more than 50% of the people using the bridge will do a U-turn at this point. Since the bridge rises 8 metres above the water, from the South Bank what you will see is the overworked undergubbings, be entirely clad in shiny (or slimy) copper-nickel. Form does not follow function, because there is no function. It doesn’t fit in with any desire lines: Abercrombie’s 1943 proposals included wholesale changes to the carriageways on the South Bank.

    The South Bank is a wonderful space which hasn’t come about by accident, but by long-term planning (even preceeding Abercrombie) and judicious testing of each proposal along the way. Opera houses, Film Centres, glass waves and commercialisation have come and gone, as did the original plans for the National Theatre, failing the tough tests of planners, funders, decision-makers, and the local community.

    There is a good reason why some of Abercrombie’s ideas were realised and others shelved. There is a good reason why the Garden Bridge or Living Bridge idea did not take off despite Murray’s and others efforts. That’s probably why Lumley and co decided to bypass the tests which secure a good design – strategic planning, optioneering, design brief, design procurement, consultation, budget control – by securing Boris’ early support and schmoozing off (or paying off) the potential opposition.

    What they didn’t count on was the fact that their design would be so awful it would attract such determined opposition.

    • Dear Michael, Thank you for your interesting and detailed response to not one, but three blogs. I hadn’t realised the problems in Denmark Street. The courtyard of Burlington House was done quite recently (by Michael Hopkins) so should be safe. Charles

      • Michael Ball says:

        To get away from these furious thoughts about the Garden Bridge I took my mother to the RA’s evocative gardens exhibition early this morning, gazing at pictures of real gardens on solid ground (or real lilies on lily ponds) – and Monet’s real garden bridge. I am (temporarily) cleansed!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s