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Garden Bridge in doubt following legal action

Proposed plans for bridge unlikely following designation of site as an asset of community value

River Thames

5 June 2015

Lambeth Council have agreed to designate the site where a 366m pedestrian ‘garden bridge’ over the River Thames is proposed to land on the South Bank, as an Asset of Community Value, blocking the sale of the site. Without a lease of the site the Garden Bridge cannot be built. 

The designation by Lambeth Council means that the community campaigning against the Garden Bridge are entitled to bid for the site, when the Garden Bridge Trust seek a sub-lease later this year to build their bridge. Campaigners will be given six months to raise funds to buy the site. 

Michael Ball, a local resident who brought a judicial review legal case against Lambeth Council’s grant of planning permission for the bridge said: “The site is currently public open space made up of grass and trees: these would be cut down and replaced by a large retail franchise from which steps and lifts would lead to the Garden Bridge. 

“Lambeth is currently offering to extend the lease to 200 years on a peppercorn rent, and vary it to allow commercial buildings and a Garden Bridge. Well, we would offer two peppercorns, and probably a lot more to retain this site as a ‘garden-bridge-free’ green open space for everybody on the South Bank.” 

As a result of Mr Ball’s legal action, the Garden Bridge Trust, the group behind the bridge, have now agreed to provide a guarantee to cover the cost of the ongoing maintenance of the bridge, estimated at £3.5m annually or £90m over the lifetime of the Bridge. 

The agreement is contained in a draft court order signed by the Trust, Lambeth Council and Mr Ball’s solicitors, which has been submitted to the High Court today.  The court is expected to confirm the order.  

The guarantee would be similar to that required by Westminster Council when they granted planning permission for the northern part of the bridge, but it will now be open to scrutiny and enforceable by the Courts. Without such a guarantee in place the Garden Bridge cannot be built.

Mr Ball said 
“I launched a Judicial Review because the Garden Bridge is misconceived and strongly opposed by a wide range of people and interests. It is only because of the legal proceedings that the Garden Bridge Trust has agreed to provide a guarantee. This is recognised by the fact that Lambeth Council have agreed to pay all of our legal costs. 

“The Garden Bridge Trust are £50m short already on the money they need to be able to build the bridge.  It seems likely therefore that they will have great difficulty getting a private supporter to put an additional £90m on the line. £60m of public funding has already been committed, in this age of austerity, to what was supposed to be a private bridge, and Boris Johnson has ruled out any more public subsidies. We will keep this under close scrutiny, and will be ready to go back to Court if necessary”.

Richard Stein of solicitors Leigh Day, who acts for Michael Ball said
“We are pleased to have secured a withdrawal of the judicial review on terms agreeable to all parties. We have achieved an enforceable guarantee that the money to maintain the bridge over its lifetime will now be required.  Without this guarantee which the Garden Bridge Trust will now be required to provide, this burden for what was supposed to be a private project would have fallen on the public purse.”

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