Is Sadiq Khan cancelling the Garden Bridge by stealth? Part 2 in a continuing series

Dream on, lads. Image: Heatherwick.

Back in July, I asked whether Sadiq Khan could be cancelling the Garden Bridge by stealth.

He hasn't scrapped the project: in fact, he once said it should definitely go ahead, on the grounds it would cost more to cancel than to proceed. But he had made very clear that it would not be receiving any more public money after the rather generous contributions it had already received.

The result, I suggested, was that...

...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.

Anyway. Today comes a sort of sequel. From the Guardian:

The fate of London’s proposed garden bridge has been placed in jeopardy after the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, announced a formal inquiry into whether the controversial project is worth the £60m of public money pledged to it.

Dame Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP who spent five years grilling chief executives and senior civil servants as head of parliament’s public accounts committee, will lead a review into the planned £185m structure across the Thames, from Temple to the South Bank.

While Hodge’s inquiry is not explicitly tasked with considering whether the project should be built, it piles further pressure on a troubled and delayed scheme that has yet to raise the private donations needed, or to clear all the necessary planning hurdles.

Maybe I'm suffering from confirmation bias here, but... this has not really shaken my earlier conclusions.

Imagine that Hodge's enquiry finds that the Garden Bridge provides value for public money. Brilliant! The naysayers will have to stop muttering darkly about the uncomfortably close relationship between former mayor Boris Johnson and design-o-naut Thomas Heatherwick, the bridge can be built, and we can all enjoy a new landmark guilt-free.


Alternatively, imagine that the enquiry finds that the lack of transparency around the project’s finances is hiding something nasty: Sadiq Khan would be sadly obligated to cancel the thing.

But – the project’s boosters could hardly blame him for that, could they? Instead, blame would land on those who mucked up the procurement and funding of the scheme in the first place.

I don't think Sadiq Khan is specifically trying to cancel the Garden Bridge. I do think he's trying to create the political space to make it possible to do so without everyone calling him a killjoy.

And at the moment, cancelling the bridge remains entirely plausible. Construction work has yet to begin – in fact, the Garden Bridge Trust, which is working on the project, has yet to even acquire the land on which the bridge's southern landing will sit. Some of the project's top secret private sponsors have dropped out, too, leaving a £22m hole in the budget.

Perhaps the project will overcome all this. But if I worked for the Garden Bridge Trust, I would be very, very worried right about now.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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London Overground is experimenting with telling passengers which bits of the next train is busiest

There must be a better way than this: Tokyo during a 1972 rail strike. Image: Getty.

One of the most fun things to do, for those who enjoy claustrophobia and other people’s body odour, is to attempt to use a mass transit system at rush hour.

Travelling on the Central line at 6pm, for example, gives you all sorts of exciting opportunities to share a single square inch of floor space with a fellow passenger, all the while becoming intimately familiar with any personal hygiene problems they may happen to have. On some, particularly lovely days you might find you don’t even get to do this for ages, but first have to spend some exciting time enjoying it as a spectator sport, before actually being able to pack yourself into one unoccupied cranny of a train.

But fear not! Transport for London has come up with a plan: telling passengers which bits of the train have the most space on them.

Here’s the science part. Many trains include automatic train weighing systems, which do exactly what the name suggests: monitoring the downward force on any individual wheel axis in real time. The data thus gathered is used mostly to optimise the braking.

But it also serves as a good proxy for how crowded a particular carriage is. All TfL are doing here is translating that into real time information visible to passengers. It’s using the standard, traffic light colour system: green means go, yellow means “hmm, maybe not”, red means “oh dear god, no, no, no”. 

All this will, hopefully, encourage some to move down the platform to where the train is less crowded, spreading the load and reducing the number of passengers who find themselves becoming overly familiar with a total stranger’s armpit.

The system is not unique, even in London: trains on the Thameslink route, a heavy-rail line which runs north/south across town (past CityMetric towers!) has a similar system visible to passengers on board. And so far it’s only a trial, at a single station, Shoreditch High Street.

But you can, if you’re so minded, watch the information update every few seconds or so here.

Can’t see why you would, but I can’t see why I would either, and that hasn’t stopped me spending much of the day watching it, so, knock yourselves out.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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