The Thomas Heatherwick-designed Garden Bridge faces a new challenge, as a judicial review has temporarily interrupted plans to build the controversial Thames crossing. After the £175 million ($265 million) project earned the blessing of Mayor Boris Johnson and the Lambeth and Westminster Councils in December, amid complaints that the £60 in taxpayers funds being given to this public-private partnership could be better spent, Michael Ball, a volunteer and former director of the Waterloo Community Development Group, requested a judicial review challenging the planning permission decision. He claimed the structure would crowd the South Bank area and impact the view of nearby historic buildings such as St. Paul's Cathedral, and that proper funding for bridge maintenance hasn't been secured by the Garden Bridge Trust, the group developing the project. After part of the challenge was dismissed earlier this year, Ball's claims were taken up by a second judge this week, who has granted permission for a judicial review. Ball said that in all his time working with developers, he's "never dealt with anyone as difficult" as the Garden Bridge Trust.
While Ball's legal case is strictly based on the maintenance costs and historic preservation implications, he says there are plenty of other reasons to opposed the project, which are shared by many in the community.
"There's no transportation argument for the bridge," he says. "There are already two bridges nearby, and it will curtail views of the river and break up the biggest open stretch on the river. This is also an area teetering on the edge of being overcrowded with visitors. We have 26 million visitors annually, and the bridge is expected to bring 7 million more."
In response, the Garden Bridge Trust believes they have all the necessary approvals and funding schemes in place to proceed. A spokesman delivered the following statement:
"We have a clear business plan in place to fund the construction of the Garden Bridge and the estimated £3.5m per annum needed for ongoing maintenance and operations. We will use a mixed model approach to secure the funds including individual and corporate membership programs, a small number of sponsorship opportunities and events, as well as some carefully selected commercial opportunities. In the meantime, we are working closely with the LB Lambeth (the local council) to discuss the next steps following the decision and continue to work with stakeholders and local communities with the intention to begin on site early next year." The Garden Bridge Trust's own Transport Assessment study in support of its planning application estimated that 7 million people will visit or cross the bridge annually, but the majority of them will be existing visitors to the South Bank. They found the new bridge will only bring 3 million new visitors to the area annually.
The case will be heard by the High Court during the second week of June. Since Ball is filing as a private citizen, he's set up a crowdfunding campaign to help defray the cost of legal fees.