Unwanted, Unloved & Impractical: Why The Garden Bridge Was Doomed



It seemed a fairly uncontroversial project; a new pedestrian bridge across the Thames, heavily planted with trees and flowerbeds, but it came to symbolise the unequal spending in London compared to the rest of the country. Former mayor Boris Johnson’s plan to imitate the High Line in New York looked, like many of his ideas, fine at a quick glance until you saw the details.

First there was the expense; it would have to be built completely from scratch, not use an existing structure. The construction costs passed £200m, with the city likely to be liable for ongoing maintenance, and Londoners grew displeased with the proposals to limit public gatherings on the bridge.

Then there was the placement – unlike New York’s High Line, it was to be built in an area that already boasts plentiful views and planting, close to other crossings. If you want to see trees and the river you can already sit on either side of the Thames in bucolic splendour. And there are other ways to enjoy it, one being Concrete’s rooftop bar on the South Bank.Southbank-Roof-Garden-conde-nast-traveller-3jul13-Belinda-Lawley

The CAD renderings looked over-optimistic – see the handful of cheery locals pottering over the bridge on a summer’s day! In reality, the Millennium Bridge at St Paul’s is packed 365 days a year and has created crowding at either end.

What’s more, the North side of the Garden Bridge came in at Temple, the last secluded stretch of the Thames that would have been instantly overrun and ruined.

Before the new mayor Sadiq Kahn cancelled it, the vanity project had already spent £36 million of taxpayers’ money, and would need a further £3 million a year to maintain, largely paid for by private parties that would close the bridge to the public. Users would be tracked by their mobile phones, items like musical instruments and kites would be confiscated by security guards. All this, in a time when public funding was being slashed across the country.

Johnson’s track record was not good; his determination to construct what it now risibly known as the Thames Dangleway became an instant white elephant, boasting just four regular users a day. His publicity photo shoot didn’t exactly lend it dignity, either. The PR for the bridge turned into a disaster.

boris-johnson-zip-wireThe Thames is not a picturesque river. It is turbulent, windswept and ill-suited to the siting of a rural oasis. Without a definite purpose, the Garden Bridge had to fall down. The cost and wastage land, rightly, at the feet of Johnson.

Of course ways of beautifying a city should always be sought (recently many new parks have opened in London under the consultation of local community groups). But the public had already had its fingers burned with other promised gardens. The ‘Sky Garden’ of the Walkie-Talkie turned out to be some expensive corporate bars surrounded by a few potted shrubs which you could only book to visit.

The moral of this story? Think it through first. Don’t mourn the ill-conceived bridge; think about what London really wants.



15 comments on “Unwanted, Unloved & Impractical: Why The Garden Bridge Was Doomed”

  1. davem says:

    Johnson’s track record on the cost side was definitely not good and has been exacerbated by West Ham taking over the Olympic Stadium, more or less at the taxpayers cost … which is ongoing ad infinitum.

  2. Colin says:

    Khan is proving just as ineffective and wasteful and clearly using the post as a springboard for the party leadership. So he more focused on leaving a boring legacy that wont be used against him by opponents.

  3. Jo W says:

    It was good to hear that this folly has been cancelled,although not so good on the money side of things.
    We need another crossing east of Tower bridge. It’s a rotten shame that the wasted money wasn’t spent on alleviating the congestion on the roads on the eastern side of London,north and south.
    At least John and Arthur will still have their view from Waterloo Bridge. 😉

  4. Martin Tolley says:

    If there’s nothing to show – what happened to?/where is?/who has? the £36 million – A future mystery story for B&M perhaps Mr F?

  5. admin says:

    Ah, the case of the missing £36-45-50 million-depending-on-who-you-read! That one will never be solved!

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Let’s see, the architectural consultants, design consultants, engineering consultants, feasibility consultants, landscaping consultants, security consultants… That would soak up a fair bit of dosh before a single shovel hit the dirt.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Oh, and the consultant consultants.

  8. Roger says:

    “who has? the £36 million”

    “Who can doubt the secret hid
    Under Cheops’ Pyramid
    Is that the contractor did
    Cheops out of several millions?”

  9. Vivienne says:

    Walking over the Green Bridge at Mile End is quite pleasant and it probably didn’t cost a lot. A few tubs with, perhaps, olive trees dotted across Hungerford Bridge could work. Only for foot passengers and greenery would block the trains a bit.

  10. Steveb says:

    I thought the Garden Bridge was at least a nice idea and might have been a real attraction like the Eye, Aquarium and suchlike. I mean, I wont miss it or anything but I kind of feel it’s easy to sneer. I’d personally rather sneer at HS2.
    London is a world city and should present itself as such.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    Steve, the problem with the Garden Bridge was that it was Boris being “me, too”. The bridge in New York was the re-purposing of an already existing structure that would have been a beast to remove. It turned a worn and potentially ugly structure into a pleasant park in an area that could use it. Win/win. Boris was indulging in creating from scratch and the scratch was going to end up in the hands of others, like the builders of Cheops’ pyramid previously mentioned.

  12. chazza says:

    Have all of your short horror fiction from the 2 “City Jitters” volumes onwards so,yes, a more permanent collected oeuvre would be most welcome – hardcover and softcover. But wouldn’t it involve 3 volumes at least ? Hardcover must be sown – none of that gluing into a back strip! And physical – none of that kindle rubbish! Perhaps Centipede Press?

  13. Steveb says:

    Just hearing about Barcelona
    Hope Admin is OK

  14. Helen Martin says:

    Thinking the same, Steveb

  15. Helen Martin says:

    He may even be in London, but he’s fine according to Twitter. Has friends trapped in offices while police look for second van.

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