The future of the proposed Garden Bridge over the River Thames in London has been thrown into doubt after Lambeth Council suspended talks about the controversial project due to funding concerns.
Designed by Thomas Heatherwick and championed by the actress and Lambeth resident Joanna Lumley, the controversial scheme has come under intense criticism for reasons including that cyclists will not be allowed to ride across it.
The structure would also be closed for several hours each night, as well as for private functions a number of times a year – leading some to question whether it is a piece of public infrastructure, or in effect a privately run tourist attraction.
Controversially, Mayor of London Boris Johnson has pledged £30 million of Transport for London money to the project, with the Treasury also set to provide a similar amount.
In a statement Lib Peck, leader of Lambeth Council, said it would not continue talks over the leases required for the southern end of the bridge, which would link the South Bank to Temple, until it had assurances from Mr Johnson that public money would not be used to finance it.
“I have consistently said, during a time of severe spending cuts putting £30million worth of public funding towards this new bridge isn’t justified,” said Councillor Peck. “So while it might have other merits, it is surely wrong for TfL to issue a blank cheque, particularly given the financial pressures they face from the Chancellor.
“The Garden Bridge is at a crucial moment with Lambeth council now needing to start complex lease negotiations. But serious question marks remain about financing of the scheme. It is also becoming clear that future mayoral support for this scheme is weakening.
“Disappointingly, since I first raised these issues in June, there seems to have been little progress in attracting alternative funding from the private sector, so we are now suspending lease negotiations until the Mayor gives us the reassurances I have written to him asking for,” she added.
Mervyn Davies, chair of the Garden Bridge Trust, expressed shock at the council's decision, telling the Guardian: “We are staggered at Lambeth’s change in stance – in the numerous meetings and in the continual dialogue over two years they have been hugely supportive and great partners.
“To suddenly do a U-turn is extremely troubling. We are so far down the road on fundraising and planning and have huge public support for an extraordinary project with real benefit for the people,” he added.
Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan, however, said this week he would scrap the project if elected to succeed Mr Johnson next May.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.