Garden Bridge Fiasco Wasted £53m

CC BY 2.0. Lloyd Alter

An object lesson in how not to do city-building.

Remember the Garden Bridge? It was where the Absolutely Fabulous actor and green activist Joanna Lumley teamed up with the pretty terrific designer Thomas Heatherwick to imagine a gorgeous pedestrian bridge across the Thames in London. It was expensive and controversial; as Edwin Heathcote noted,

There are bridges. And there are gardens. You might find bridges in gardens. But you do not find gardens on bridges. There is a reason. They are two entirely different things. Which is why the London “Garden Bridge” proposed by actress Joanna Lumley and designer Thomas Heatherwick is wrong in virtually every way.

Even though it was covered in trees, we were not fans of the bridge, complaining that it was crazy expensive, in the wrong place, blocking historic views and more like a police state than a public attraction.

Model of bridge

Model of bridge at Cooper Hewitt/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

It finally got cancelled after Sadiq Khan replaced Boris Johnson as Mayor, and wouldn't provide a guarantee of costs. And now, after an in-depth report, everyone knows what this folly cost. Considering that nothing got built, it is quite the bill:

£2.76 million to Heatherwick;
£12.7 million to engineers Arup;
£21.4 million to the contractor that never even started;
Oh, and £418,000 for a party to raise money from donors.

There is more. You can see the full breakdown here.

In total, £53 million (US $68 million) was spent, and the taxpayers will pick up 81 percent of it. A London assembly councillor complained to the Architects Journal how every level of government was complicit in this botch:

It’s galling to see the costs of Boris’ botched Bridge continuing to escalate for London’s taxpayers. David Cameron needs to answer why, in his eagerness to see Boris Johnson’s scheme go through, he intervened to overrule the advice of senior civil servants in order to extend the underwriting for the Bridge.

Heatherwick's star has fallen in London after the bridge scandal and the flawed design of the Routemaster buses he designed with insufficient ventilation and too sufficient pollution. Fortunately his star has risen in New York City, where he has designed the Vessel, a giant stair at the Hudson Yards, Pier 55, a park in the Hudson, and a condo that I didn't like very much. Let's hope they all fare better.