Could this be it? Could it finally be happening? Could the biggest debate in Greater London politics – “Should we spend a small fortune building a bridge next to an existing bridge?” – really be about to come to its conclusion?
Anything’s possible. From this week’s Architect’s Journal:
London’s new mayor has effectively suspended work on the Garden Bridge because of concerns that an enabling project at Temple Tube station will lead to more public money being spent on the £175m project.
Transport for London’s (TfL) finance and policy committee had on Friday (8 July) been due to rubber-stamp £3m of London Underground spending on strengthening the station’s structure to withstand the weight of the Thomas Heatherwick-designed bridge on its roof.
But Sadiq Khan has now ordered the work – by engineer Flint & Neil, and approved by his predecessor Boris Johnson two months before May’s mayoral election – to be halted because of his commitment not to spend any more taxpayers’ money on the bridge.
At first glance this seems a bit odd because, a mere six weeks ago, Khan was arguing that the Garden Bridge should absolutely, definitely go ahead.
His argument was that so much had been spent on it already (taxpayer contribution to date: £37.7m) that it would effectively now cost more to cancel it than it would if we finished it, thus enabling it to start making money and repaying some of its loans (final projected taxpayer contribution: £18m).
So has he u-turned? Well, it’s possible. He already has form, and a certain flexibility on matters of policy increasingly looks like Khan’s defining ideology.
But of course, he hasn’t actually scrapped the Bridge at all – he’s doing something altogether more subtle. Here’s a mayoral spokesman quoted in that AJ article:
Sadiq Khan has been clear that no new public funds should be committed to the Garden Bridge, and he has pledged to make the project more open and transparent – standards that were not always met under the previous administration.
So, no, Khan hasn’t scrapped the Bridge – he’s just requiring it to live within its means. After all, the Garden Bridge Trust has told us repeatedly that there’s a robust financial case for the Bridge: so getting it built without dipping into the public purse yet again should be easy, right?
In other words: either the Garden Bridge happens, without Sadiq Khan committing another penny, and he’ll be able to take the credit (just as Boris Johnson took the credit for Ken Livingstone’s cycle hire scheme); or the Garden Bridge doesn’t happen, and it’ll be because the previous administration mucked up the finances.
Either way, Khan wins, and he doesn’t have to be the mean-spirited mayor who cancelled something beautiful.
He’ll go far, that boy.
Incidentally – wondering why a new Bridge would require us to spend £3m on rebuilding a tube station? Because the northern end of it will look like this:
Image: Heatherwick Studios.
Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.