An illustration of how the garden bridge could look
Published: 6 January, 2017
by ALINA POLIANSKAYA
THE troubled Garden Bridge project has been plunged into fresh doubt after senior council chiefs announced they will take another look at a major decision about the £185million footbridge.
Westminster Council has announced a call-in of proposed “property transactions” agreed by members of its cabinet before Christmas as part of the scheme to “ensure transparency and value for money”.
It will specifically challenge a decision to transfer public land around Temple tube station to the project’s managers, the Garden Bridge Trust.
The project was called in after a rare alliance of Conservative and Labour councillors united behind the move.
Wai-King Cheung from the Thames Central Open Spaces campaign group, said they were “relieved that common sense had prevailed”, adding: “The council may have granted the Garden Bridge planning permission in 2014 but a lot of controversy has reared its ugly head since then so the council must not be hasty in facilitating this private development which seriously needs to be reassessed.”
The call-in comes as Dame Margaret Hodge looks at whether the project is value for money after the Mayor of London review was launched in September last year.
It is extremely rare in Westminster for a majority party member to go against a decision made by members of its cabinet but Tory Cllr Brian Connell has said he will backing Labour leader Adam Hug.
The West End Extra understands Cllr Connell’s move has the full support of leader-elect, Cllr Nickie Aiken. Last night (Thursday) Cllr Connell, chairman of the council’s scrutiny committee, said it was important to ensure that the council did not end up footing some of the cost of the bridge during or after it is built.
He said: “We will also be looking for assurances that Westminster taxpayers and the council’s interests remain protected as well as understanding how the council’s decision fits in with the scope and content of the mayor’s review of the Garden Bridge project.”
Westminster is not currently investing any money into the scheme but, as the funding for the bridge has been called into question, he wants to ensure that they do not get stuck “looking after the bridge”.
“It is true that the project can’t go ahead without this decision being expedited so it is important,” he said.
Critics of the controversial bridge, which has been described by some as a “vanity project”, praised the “courageous” move of Cllr Connell.
Leader of the opposition Cllr Adam Hug said: “I’m pleased that Brian has agreed with the need to call this decision in. This has enabled the ‘call-in’ to proceed – something of a rarity. I don’t think there has been a normal call-in, triggered by committee members rather than ward councillors, in a very long time.”
As much £60m of the bridge’s £185m price tag could be funded by the taxpayer via Transport for London and Department for Transport. Campaigners have warned that building the bridge equated to privatisation of public land and was not essential. More than 20,000 people have signed a petition against it.
A spokesman for the Garden Bridge Trust said the project would bring “many benefits” to London and they were “confident” in the council’s decision-making process, adding: “We have been working with Westminster City Council for several years on plans to build the bridge, which have always included use of the top of Temple station as the north landing point of the bridge. Westminster Council gave planning consent for the bridge in late 2014 and are currently undertaking a legal process – not a land sale – to allow the space at Temple station to be used for the bridge landing.”