It seems that more and more individuals and organisations are now voicing their opinions against the proposed Garden Bridge in Central London. The latest is the Financial Times LINK, which called it the ‘Millennium Dome on stilts’ and, quite rightly, said that “what sticks in our craw is the public money involved” for a bridge that “spans part of the river which hardly needs an economic leg up”.

That was my immediate reaction to the project when the plans were first publicised. By all means, build it — but don’t pretend that there is a defensible case for publicly funding it. There is no need for the Garden Bridge. Thomas Heatherwick recently said that the Garden Bridge “has to be built in Central London or not at all.” If that’s the case, then to put it in the same stark terms: it should be privately funded or not at all.

Having evangelised about this before – in blogs and tweets and in various stages of inebriation in pubs on both sides of the river – someone usefully sent me a link to the Strategic Outline Business Case produced for the project by Transport for London. LINK

It is a masterpiece of ‘cosmetic’ options appraisal. That is what I call any pseudoscientific appraisal that is set up from the start to return a pre-determined result. If this Business Case were submitted to a funding body for anything other than a celebrity-backed Mayoral vanity project, it would send the assessor into fits of laughter before it was summarily rejected. Because the Garden Bridge is a celebrity-backed Mayoral vanity project, it is instead described by City Hall as a robust and “extremely positive” Business Case. It certainly is extreme.

Its weaknesses are many and varied, sometimes comical and far too numerous to detail in a blog. My favourite section though, is the one entitled “The Case for Change” and specifically the part that describes the many “problems” that the Bridge will fix. Just for fun, I tried to find alternative solutions to these so-called problems that might cost a little less than the £175 million that is being spent on the Garden Bridge.

Problem 1: ‘Quality of the pedestrian environment on existing bridges in central London’
(read: the sidewalks on Waterloo Bridge are a bit rubbish)

Solution: Walk to Millennium Bridge (7 minutes) or Hungerford Bridge (5 minutes)
Cost to the taxpayer: £0

Problem 2: ‘Poor access onto Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges from the Thames Path.’

Solution: Build a lift (x2)
Cost to the taxpayer: £160,000

Problem 3: ‘Missing link between Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges for pedestrians.’

Solution: Seriously? Don’t make up problems that don’t really exist.
Cost to the taxpayer: £0

Problem 4: ‘Underground access to the South Bank area’.

Solution: Additional signage to the seven Underground Stations that are already within a 5 minute walk of different parts of the South Bank.
Cost to the taxpayer: £20,000 (and that would buy some pretty nice signs)

Problem 5: ‘Onward distribution of passengers from Waterloo Station’.

Solution: If congestion at Waterloo Station is a problem, then don’t build yet another tourist attraction right next to it.
Cost to the taxpayer: £0

Problem 6 (my favourite): ‘Supporting economic activity and development on the North Bank’. Specifically: ‘Major ambitions exist to regenerate the Strand / Aldwych area which is relatively quiet especially at weekends… There is a need to encourage people into these areas by making a walking trip easier.’

Solution: Well, what can anyone really hope to do but pray for those poor people who are doomed to live and work in Westminster? It sounds like a dreadful place. All of that walking between Somerset House and the Savoy and the Royal Opera House? On a Saturday? It’s madness! Is a Garden Bridge even enough?
Cost to the taxpayer: £10 donation to charity and a silent prayer for the ‘regeneration’ of the Strand

As a solution to all of these so-called problems, the Garden Bridge would cost £175 million, of which £30 million is pledged from Transport for London and £30 million from Treasury. City Hall has furthermore underwritten some £3.5 million of annual running costs.

Fourth Street solution to these problems: £180,010.
Plus £30,000 for a believable Business Case.


© Dan Anderson, July 2015

(This article was originally published on the website of Fourth Street, management consultants in placemaking and destination developmen, reproduced with kind permission of the author and Fourth Street. LINK


Dan Anderson is director of Fourth Street with a background in economics and experience in both the UK and overseas markets.