The Political Implications
The Garden Bridge, an idea conceived by actress Joanna Lumley in 1998, won the support of London Mayor Boris Johnson and Chancellor George Osborne two years ago. To great political fanfare, both pledged separate £30 million cash injections to the project. Transport for London (TfL) offered support and Johnson signed Londoners up for an annual £3.5m for its maintenance.
However, the rapidly escalating public cost meant that political opposition against the 366m-long proposition began to rally. Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London, previously declared he’d scrap the project if elected, claiming it “no longer represents value for money”. This came in spite of a ComRes poll indicating that 78 per cent of Londoners would support the construction.
The bridge’s trust describes the Garden Bridge as “a breathtaking new public garden”. Many supporters would argue that the Garden Bridge would provide a solution for London’s apparent lack of green space. Indeed, this issue was touched upon in former Labour mayoral candidate Dame Tessa Jowell’s campaign.Talks between Khan, Lambeth Council and the Garden Bridge Trust resumed after a deal was struck on for contributions from Transport for London. TfL’s contributions have been converted into a loan amid the council’s concerns of insufficient private investment.
This brings public funding for the project down to £60m, with the £30 million loan from TfL, which has gone some way towards winning over its more fiscally prudent critics.
The Business Case
The proposed ‘Garden Bridge’ that is set to span the Thames has courted controversy since the plans were introduced last year. Those in favour of the Bridge have promised economic benefits from tourism. Others say that a tree-lined garden over the Thames will be great for ordinary Londoners to enjoy.
However, the proposed dream, has turned into a bitter dispute over funding. The total cost of this architectural marvel is £125 million. Donations are providing £85 million, but £60 million will come from Transport for London (TfL) in form of a 50 year loan and Treasury grant. The private sector is set to contribute a mere £40 million.
While initially assumed to be a privately funded initiative, the taxpayer will now have to support a significant proportion of the scheme. This has raised issues of value for money, especially as nine bridges already span the area of the Thames between Westminster and London Bridge.
Although TfL will recover its £30 million investment eventually, groups such as the Taxpayers Alliance argue that as £30 million comes from a Treasury grant, the scheme relies too heavily on state funding. Indeed, as the Bridge will not be free to access, some question whether public money should be used at all.
Ultimately, what do we really want – beauty or value for money. With the government committed to austerity, the lack of necessity for this project makes it a dubious financial endeavour.