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Let’s stop carping and build the Garden Bridge

, The Times

Lord Mervyn Davies, Chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust, writes in today's Times:

What is wrong with wanting to deliver a brand new green space in the heart of London? A place to bring us together, to soothe weary souls, to help people move around and to ease congestion?

For the last three years this is exactly what trustees of the Garden Bridge — designed by Thomas Heatherwick to span the Thames from Temple to the South Bank — have been trying to do. The trust was set up at the request of Transport for London and the Department for Transport to deliver the bridge, with a public investment of £60 million. It had the strong support of the then mayor of London and chancellor. Planning permission was given and the trust raised nearly £70 million of private money towards the remaining cost. But last year the new mayor, Sadiq Khan, asked Dame Margaret Hodge to review the project for value for money. Six months later, she has concluded that the bridge should be scrapped — an opinion she wasn’t asked for.

Why, exactly? Hodge has offered a lot of opinion but very few facts. She states that philanthropists are unlikely to associate themselves with the project, but fails to consider the uniqueness and prominence of the Garden Bridge which makes it highly attractive to corporate donors (as we have already discovered). She spoke to most of our opponents, but did not take the time to meet any of our existing donors.

Every day I see a team here at the trust that is dedicated to making this project happen but which for the last few months has been in limbo. Land deals cannot be concluded and work has all but stopped as our stakeholders await a decision. My message to the mayor is clear: we don’t want your money, we want your support and a climate of certainty to make progress. Without it such a project is impossible.

The dream is that in two and a half years the bridge will be transported from Tilbury in Essex, up the River Thames and placed into its new home. That in itself will be a spectacular event. The bridge’s plants and trees will have been painstakingly selected and acclimatised so that they will flourish in their new environment. In a few years people could be strolling, proposing, taking in the view on a beautiful green oasis over the Thames, the first of its kind in the world.

So now the mayor has a tough decision to make. Does he allow the Garden Bridge, which has already had its public money invested, to blossom, or to die?

Let’s get on and build something that we can all be proud of and that the rest of the world can admire.

Lord Davies of Abersoch is chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust