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New doubts over garden bridge ‘vanity’ plan

garden bridge

An illustration of how the garden bridge could look

Published: 6 January, 2017
by ALINA POLIANSKAYA

THE troubled Garden Bridge project has been plunged into fresh doubt after senior council chiefs announced they will take another look at a major decision about the £185million footbridge.

Westminster Council has announced a call-in of proposed “property transactions” agreed by members of its cabinet before Christmas as part of the scheme to “ensure transparency and value for money”.

It will specifically challenge a decision to transfer public land around Temple tube station to the ­project’s managers, the Garden Bridge Trust. 

The project was called in after a rare alliance of Conservative and Labour councillors united behind the move.

Wai-King Cheung from the Thames Central Open Spaces campaign group, said they were “relieved that common sense had prevailed”, adding: “The council may have granted the Garden Bridge planning permission in 2014 but a lot of controversy has reared its ugly head since then so the council must not be hasty in facilitating this private development which ­seriously needs to be reassessed.”

The call-in comes as Dame Margaret Hodge looks at whether the project is value for money after the Mayor of London review was launched in September last year.

It is extremely rare in Westminster for a majority party member to go against a decision made by members of its cabinet but Tory Cllr Brian Connell has said he will backing Labour leader Adam Hug.

The West End Extra understands Cllr Connell’s move has the full support of leader-elect, Cllr Nickie Aiken. Last night (Thursday) Cllr Connell, chairman of the council’s scrutiny committee, said it was important to ensure that the council did not end up footing some of the cost of the bridge during or after it is built.

He said: “We will also be looking for assurances that Westminster taxpayers and the council’s interests remain protected as well as understanding how the council’s decision fits in with the scope and content of the mayor’s review of the Garden Bridge project.”

Westminster is not currently investing any money into the scheme but, as the funding for the bridge has been called into question, he wants to ensure that they do not get stuck “looking after the bridge”.

“It is true that the project can’t go ahead without this decision being expedited so it is important,” he said.

Critics of the controversial bridge, which has been described by some as a “vanity project”, praised the “courageous” move of Cllr Connell.

Leader of the opposition Cllr Adam Hug said: “I’m pleased that Brian has agreed with the need to call this decision in. This has ena­bled the ‘call-in’ to proceed – something of a rarity. I don’t think there has been a normal call-in, triggered by committee members rather than ward councillors, in a very long time.”

As much £60m of the bridge’s £185m price tag could be funded by the taxpayer via Transport for London and Department for Transport. Campaigners have warned that building the bridge equated to privatisation of public land and was not essential. More than 20,000 people have signed a petition against it. 

A spokesman for the Garden Bridge Trust said the project would bring “many benefits” to London and they were “confident” in the council’s decision-making process, adding: “We have been working with Westminster City Council for several years on plans to build the bridge, which have always included use of the top of Temple station as the north landing point of the bridge. Westminster Council gave planning consent for the bridge in late 2014 and are currently undertaking a legal process – not a land sale – to allow the space at Temple station to be used for the bridge landing.”

 

Comments

Garden Bridge Trust squirming their way out of another attack

The GBT say they are not involved in a "land sale" but they are seeking to dispose of public land i.e. buy their way into WCC's public land and LUL's public land and all associated rights that go along with it - so it is land for sale in effect. The GBT may have always intended to use the roof of Temple tube but they have not planned this properly at all and have encountered rights to light problems which they are seeking to circumvent by buying all rights associated with the airspace around Temple station; an otherwise statutory obligation from private developers.

They are clearly trying for a land grab no matter how they dress it. And WCC's haughty Cllr Robert Davis seem to be playing pet poodle to them for some bizarre reason.

Don't be fooled by the picture

Readers note: the image here is a crop from an early computer rendering that showed the proposed bridge with piers spaced at equal distances in the river. It's since been redesigned with the Westminster-side pier much closer to the bank, making the whole thing clumsily lop-sided. And the angle of viewing in both versions is an impossible one, unless you're whizzing over in an oligarch's helicopter.

Garden Bridge Call In

It’s been looking for a while now that the Garden BridgeTrust’s strategy has been to keep a lid on the problems while pushing the project to a point of no return, and then get public bodies to step in to pick up the pieces and plug the finances. Well done Westminster Council for seeing how the land transfer is a calculated step on the way to the point of no return. No land should be transferred till the Trust can show that it is a going concern. Let’s see the cart before we give them the horse.

At least good sense has prevailed in Westminster

A pity that Lambeth Council has shamelessly pushed this carbuncle in the making forward.

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