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"Bridge of Sighs": leader article in The Times

, The Times

Text of a leader article in The Times, Saturday, 29 April:

The Mayor has denied Londoners a wonderful landmark in the Garden Bridge.

It is now four years since the building of a garden bridge across the Thames was proposed. It would be a stunning adornment to the London skyline, an attraction for tourists and a place of peaceful contemplation for Londoners. Backed by the actress Joanna Lumley, it would help to rejuvenate the tired north bank of the Thames and be a confident statement about the capital as the country removed itself from the EU. For all of these reasons, it is disappointing that the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has withdrawn his support.

Stretching 366 metres across the Thames, from Temple to the South Bank, the bridge would be planted with 270 trees and 2,000 plants. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, it could prove as iconic as his cauldron for the London Olympics. Of the estimated £200 million construction costs, £140 mil- lion would be met by the private sector. The shortfall may be a reflection of the uncertainty surrounding the project. If so, with less uncertainty the gap would narrow. Mr Khan has refused to underwrite the estimated £3 million annual maintenance costs because he is unwilling to expose taxpayers to the possibility of further expense. Without it, construction cannot begin.

Most of the bridge’s bills could be met by commercial and fundraising activities and not the public purse. The trust, which is the charity fundraising for the bridge, is now reviewing its partnership options. While Mr Khan is to be commended for tackling air pollution, especially from diesel vehicles, he has shown a worrying short-sightedness over this project. The stewardship of a great city occasionally requires a leap of imagination and a willingness to take on carping critics. Once built, the bridge would win the affection of future generations, who would be astonished it was ever controversial. It is a pity that on this project the mayor has been so uninspired.