It was intended to be a “floating paradise” for London but instead Joanna Lumley’s vision of a Thames garden bridge has collapsed amid acrimony, with the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, and his predecessor Boris Johnson arguing over how £37m of public money had been spent on a project without a brick being laid.
The actor had conceived it as a memorial to Princess Diana, but the trust behind the £200m project for a tree-lined bridge between Temple on the north side of the Thames and the South Bank said it had to abandon the scheme because it did not have support of the mayor whose financial support had become necessary for its survival.
Khan responded by saying Londoners should be “very angry” about the amount of public money already spent on a scheme that had become increasingly controversial. He said: “I have been clear since before I became mayor that no more London taxpayers’ money should be spent on this project, and when I took office I gave the Garden Bridge Trust time to try to address the multiple serious issues with it.”
His Tory predecessor, a proponent of the bridge, hit back, saying it was so sad that Khan had “killed” what he said could have been a “beautiful project” and suggested it could one day still be built. “The only crumb of comfort is that good plans have now been developed and can be readily revived,” Johnson said.
Proponents of the bridge, which would have featured 270 trees and thousands of plants, argued that it would be a big tourist asset and a useful pedestrian link. Lumley’s vision – stemming from childhood memories of mountain gardens in Malaysia – had been taken forward by the designer Thomas Heatherwick in 2013 as part of a private development, but the project ran into increasing difficulties.
Critics said it was in a crowded section of the capital already well served by bridges, and questioned why public money should be spent on a link that would be privately run, would be able set its own rules for access, and would close at night and be available to hire for private events.
Mervyn Davies, the chair of the trust, wrote to the mayor outlining the reasons why the trust had taken the decision, and tried to pin the blame on Khan. Lord Davies said it was “with great regret that trustees have concluded that without mayoral support, the project cannot be delivered”.“We had made great progress obtaining planning permission, satisfying most of our planning conditions and we had raised £70m of private money towards the project,” he said, adding that the bridge would have been a “beautiful new green space”.
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