London’s Garden Bridge has got the go-ahead. Here's why it's a bad plan

What could be more wonderful than a bridge in central London that is covered in trees and flowers? A lot actually.

The Garden Bridge has got the go-ahead, despite fierce criticism.

Garden Bridge London

Garden Bridge London credit: Rex/Arup

The £175m project, which was originally conceived by Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley, has been cleared by London Mayor Boris Johnson after alread being approved by both Lambeth Council, and Westminster City Council.

The bridge will link Temple with the Southbank and will be covered in trees and plants arranged by celebrity gardener Dan Pearson.

Johnson said: “The garden bridge will provide a fantastic new landmark for London whilst supporting regeneration and economic growth on both sides of the Thames.

“It will create a stunning oasis of tranquillity in the heart of our city and boost our plans to encourage walking in the city.”

So what’s the problem?


The bridge is being put slap-bang in the middle of a load of other bridges. In the two miles of river in which the bride will sit, nine other crossings are open to walkers.

It’s a busy area, but couldn’t £175m be put to good use in areas requiring urgent attention? There is a strong case for more river crossings to connect parts of London further east.

Business group London First has also questioned the mayor’s prioritising of the project.

According to the BBC, head of infrastructure David Leam said that progress on tunnels and bridges proposed at Silvertown and Gallions Reach in east London had been “painfully slow”. He added: “We’d like to see the London mayor applying a similar bit of elbow grease to getting crossings built east of Tower Bridge. In terms of economic growth, those are the priorities.”


The £175m project will be funded by taxpayers as well as by infrastructure and transport bodies. According to the Evening Standard, City Hall and the Treasury have both committed £30m each, with a further £50m coming from private donations. Over £65m is still outstanding and will have to be raised fast if construction is to begin a year from now.

The BBC says that the bridge has an estimated “benefit to cost ratio of 1.9:1, meaning you get £1.90 back for every £1 investment, which puts the bridge at the lower end of the benefits of transport projects.”

This is at the pitiful end of the scale when it comes to infrastructure spending returns.

The bridge will also cost £2.5m a year to run.

Earlier this year, shadow transport minister Lord Davies of Oldham described the bridge as a “very expensive piece of public art”, which leads to the next problem…

Tourist attraction

The bridge will carry an estimated 7.1 million people across it a year, roughly 30,000 a day. It will be open between 6 in the morning and midnight. This means that at peak times, there will likely be over 2,000 people on it. So much for the “stunning oasis of tranquillity”, the mayor is marketing it as. It’s going to be a bloody scrum.

Can’t see the wood for the trees

Though the bridge will be covered in greenery, more than 30 existing trees on the Southbank will have to be exterminated in order to house the bridge landing at Bernie Spain Gardens.

But the trees on the bridge itself will have a direct impact on the views of London. St. Paul’s Cathedral has raised objections to the plans on the grounds that many views of Cristopher Wren’s famous dome will be blocked by the growth on the bridge.

To meet some of the concerns, planners have decided that the trees will not grow higher than 15 metres. This means that the Garden Bridge will only be populated by odd, pollarded little trees. Brilliant.

A further important criticism is that cyclists will not be allowed to cross the bridge. What is the point of it all?

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Readers' comments (4)

  • What idiot thought of wasting this sort of money when cut backs are going on and real investment is needed elsewhere. Ah Joanna Lumley explains a lot! Besides that being a good enough reason not to build it, your reporter is a 100% right.

    Why no cyclists - that's just plain silly!

    Technically wonder how the concrete will hold up against the power of tree roots etc?

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  • Joanna Biddolph

    It's a wonderful addition to London and if it is for people on foot only, with no cyclists, that's not to be sniffed at. Cyclists have plenty of other places to cross the river; some separation is not impossible to live with - after all, some crossings are rail only. Having a people on foot only bridge is just another variation. As for the cost:benefit ratio, how does it compare with subsidies for the other arts such as opera or music or theatre? Providing one comparison is hardly balanced; there must be others. Practical structural issues will surely be being looked - no one has forgotten the strength of public objection to a perfectly safe Millennium bridge that wobbled slightly in wind; it was corrected, even though it posed no danger. In this instance, guidance is available from the beautiful Kensington roof gardens which sustains trees and a pond above a building. We need a range of options for leisure pursuits; a radically different bridge will enhance many lives and add to London's attractiveness from many perspectives.

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  • Surely the next stage is to have a bridge witrh housing on it (oops this used to be the case many years back). I am not against either - as to cost this is the scheme of expenditure seems small but who will pick up the ongoing maintenance and repair bill

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  • A new footbridge with a view? YES!
    But covered with trees?
    Trees look great on the Embankments and open spaces bordering the River, contrasting with and complementing the buildings,( and full grown trees would enhance an island- if there was one in central London), but on a bridge?
    Doesn't that suggest dereliction and decay ,a deserted city?

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