6 questions we still have about London's Garden Bridge

The Garden Bridge: monster or marvel?

London’s proposed Garden Bridge is a bit like the Rorschach inkblot test. To some, it looks like a new piece of public space and infrastructure in central London, littered with delightful greenery. To others, it looks a bit like a suspect waste of money probably motivated by, basically, pure evil.

These different perspectives are possible largely because of the substantial number of unanswered questions still surrounding the plans for the bridge, construction of which is due to begin at the end of 2015. Here are six – plus any answers we’ve been able to unearth so far.  

1. Just how much public money will be spent on it?

Until recently, everyone has been under the impression that the £175m cost of the bridge's construction will split into £60 worth of public investment and £115m of private money. Earlier this month, mayor Boris Johnson assured LBC listeners  that “the maintenance cost will not be borne by the public sector, I’ve made that clear.”

But last week, Architects’ Journal got hold of a letter in which the Greater London Authority appears to agree to underwrite the bridge’s £3.5m maintenance cost. 

We asked the Garden Bridge Trust (GBT) about this, and a spokesperson told us that the GLA had only underwritten the costs because the GBT could promise a “robust business plan” which should cover all maintenance: 

The Garden Bridge Trust fully intends and expects to raise the money required for both the construction of the Garden Bridge and the ongoing maintenance and operations. More than £120m has been pledged so far and we have a clear business plan in place to raise the estimated £3.5m per annum needed to cover the on-going costs.

Answer: Probably only that initial £60m. Probably.

2. Will you have to pay to cross it?

Rumours about the bridge's funding and its closure for private events led some to think passerby would have to pay to cross the bridge. This, however, isn't the case: private events would presumably be ticketed, but anyone crossing during normal hours could do so for free. 

Answer: No. 

3. Does it even count as a bridge?

Back in November, reports emerged that the bridge would not be open to cyclists, would close at night and for private events, and would only be open to groups of eight or more if they let staff know in advance. Also, that picnics (read: joy) would be banned. 

These regulations would hugely negate the usefulness of the bridge as a pedestrian walkway – you wouldn't be able to rely on crossing it whenever you needed to, so it'd be unlikely to form part of anyone's regular journeys. The rules on large groups and eating sandwiches would also make it less of a park or public space. 

On this, the GBT spokesperson said that the regulations on use are still under discussion. On the groups of eight issue, they said: 

Most public spaces have ways of managing large groups to ensure the safety and comfort of visitors. The Trust had to include this in the planning application and put forward an initial figure of more than 8 people... this was a starting point only and we are talking to stakeholders and the local planning authority to confirm our agreed numbers. 

And on the picnics?

The bridge is a place for people to linger and admire new views of the city, but it will also provide an efficient route for commuters... We will ask users to be considerate to others when using the bridge.

So, not massively clear then.

Answer: Yes, if enough of the limitations on its use are taken away. 

4. Is it in the right place?

Even if you do consider a walkway that's shut half the time and closed to cyclists a "bridge", it hasn't been planned for an area that particularly needs one. The proposed site is between Blackfriars Bridge and Waterloo Bridge, to link Temple with the Southbank:

This location only strengthens the impression that this is more tourist attraction than infrastructure project, however. There are already three bridges within 1km of the proposed crossing.

To the east, meanwhile, there's a long stretch of the river which is effectively uncrossable, where a bridge – even a limited one – would have genuinely come in handy. 

Answer: For maximum footfall from West End audiences and Southbank visitors, yes. For actual Londoners, no. 

5. Was Thomas Heatherwick the right designer for the job?

In another exclusive, Architects’ Journal revealed a couple of weeks ago that the bridge's chosen designer, Thomas Heatherwick, was scored more highly for bridge experience by TfL than the other two firms, despite the fact that both have designed far more bridges than him. 

Wilkinson Eyre, one of the firms turned down for the contract, lists 27 bridge projects on its website. Heatherwick, meanwhile, has reportedly only designed one. 

6. Is it a secret Diana memorial?

When Joanna Lumley first dreamt up the idea of a garden bridge back in 1997, she envisioned it as a memorial for the recently deceased Lady Di. We thought it was worth checking whether this was still the case.

According to the GBT spokesman, at least, the project is no longer linked to the people's princess in any way.

Answer: No, thank goodness. She's stuck with that fountain in Hyde Park and Kensington's Diana Memorial Playground. Sorry, Express readers.

 
 
 
 

Podcast: Beyond the wall, with John Lanchester

A sea wall in Japan. Image: Getty.

This week it’s another live episode, of sorts. In early April I was lucky enough to chair an event at the Cambridge Literary Festival with the journalist and novelist John Lanchester.

John was mostly there to promote his latest novel, The Wall, a “cli-fi” book about a Britain trundling on after catastrophic climate change has wiped out much of the planet. In the past he’s also written about other vaguely CityMetric-y topics like the housing crisis and the tube - so he’s a guest I’ve been hoping to get on for a while, and was kind enough to allow us to record our chat for posterity and podcasting purposes.

Incidentally, I didn’t find a way of turning the conversation to the tube. We do lose ten minutes to talking about Game of Thrones, though.

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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