After receiving approval from London's Lambeth council last month, designer Thomas Heatherwick's garden bridge plan has been greenlit by the Westminster council in a 3-1 vote, on the condition that London's transport authority underwrite its maintenance costs in perpetuity. The scheme was initially derided as a vanity project for mayor Boris Johnson and actress Joanna Lumley, planned for a part of the Thames that didn't need another crossing. It started to look even more ridiculous a few weeks ago, when it was revealed that cyclists won't be welcome there, and groups of eight or more will have to ask for formal permission to use the bridge. Now, the initial promise it would be privately funded is increasingly looking like an empty one.
Guardian architecture critic Oliver Wainwright lays out what the current vision of the project's budget looks like:
The public contribution to the £175m bridge has grown steadily from an initial sum of £4m (to cover planning and feasibility studies) to a capital sum of £30m from TfL, matched by another £30m from the Treasury. This could now extend to covering the bridge's annual £3.5m running costs for the rest of the structure's life. To the council, all these concerns took a back seat to concerns over views:
Westminster planning officers were satisfied with the crowd studies, but were more concerned about the damage the new bridge would bring to long-cherished views across the Thames. The planning report stated that 'if this proposal was for a private commercial development of this height and size, the harm to these views would be considered unacceptable and the application refused,' but added that the bridge 'promises public benefits'. The Greater London Authority now needs to pass on the scheme, which it is expected to do in January, though campaigners hope their objections over its advisability and legality will prompt an intervention before then. Meanwhile, in the U.S., our largely unneeded Heatherwick-designed vanity parks designed primarily to meet the needs of the affluent are still mostly funded by billionaires.