London Mayor Boris Johnson has approved plans for the Thomas Heatherwick-designed Garden Bridge. The approval from the mayor is the third and final green light for the bridge, having previously been accepted by both Lambeth and Westminster councils. The project is now likely to begin construction within a year - in line with a self-imposed deadline by the Garden Bridge Trust that will allow them to complete the project before works on the proposed Thames Tideway Tunnel cause disruption on the site.
"The Garden Bridge will provide a fantastic new landmark for London whilst supporting regeneration and economic growth on both sides of the Thames," said Johnson, who has been a vocal supporter since the project's inception. "It will create a stunning oasis of tranquillity in the heart of our city and boost our plans to encourage walking in the city."
The £175 million has been pledged £30 million each from both the UK Treasury and Transport for London (TfL), however Johnson has said that TfL will not underwrite any of the bridge's maintenance cost. Despite its relatively painless route through three separate planning approvals, the Garden Bridge has received heavy criticism, with some arguing that £60 million in public funds would be better spent in East London, where there are very few river crossings. Others raised concerns about the bridge's affect on views of the city, in particular of St Paul's Cathedral, while still others criticized the long list of conditions put on the bridge by Lambeth Council, which will see the bridge closed overnight and on certain days of the year, (free) ticketed entry, and restrictions placed on cyclists and groups of more than eight people.
Further criticism has been made of the process by which Heatherwick was appointed as the bridge's designer. Both Heatherwick and the engineer for the design Arup were invited to produce proposals by actress Joanna Lumley, who originally came up with the idea for the bridge in the late 1990s. The fact that they have remained as the designers despite a series of open tenders has caused doubt as to whether these contests were truly fair.
"Just because the Garden Bridge is the brainchild of a celebrity, there can be no justification for cutting corners in the process of selecting architects," said Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Liberal Democrat group in the London Assembly, who has pledged to question the mayor on the team's appointment. This investigation, however, will have no impact upon the construction of the bridge.
Edward Lister, the Deputy Mayor for Planning, confirmed that the Mayor's office saw no need to question the approvals made by Lambeth and Westminster. "Having reviewed this application thoroughly, I am happy for Westminster City Council and Lambeth Council to determine the applications for the Garden Bridge themselves," he said. "We have worked hard with both local authorities and the Garden Bridge Trust to ensure that the bridge is of the very highest standard of design while remaining fully accessible to those who work, live in and visit the city."