The Mayor of London’s planned £60m “garden bridge” over the River Thames in London will have no legal public right of way, it has been announced.
The bridge, likely to be a popular tourist attraction, will be privately managed by a trust and large groups will be asked to call ahead before visiting due to its limited capacity.
Protests and cycling will be banned on the new bridge, which will be closed at midnight when views over the Thames are at their most dramatic and the tourist crowds have dispersed.
The bridge’s owner is also exploring the possibility of holding “a limited number” of private events on it, when it could be closed to the public.
£30m of the money for the attraction is coming out of London’s squeezed transport budget, despite Transport for London announcing yet another increase in fares set to come into force next year.
Central government is contributing another £30m for the bridge, which has high-profile celebrity backers including actress Joanna Lumley.
Lambeth Council’s planning report on the bridge says groups of eight or more would have to formally apply in advance to visit the bridge because they could constitute a “protest risk”.
Campaigners are angry at the way the project has been handled, arguing that the privatisation of public space in the capital has gone too far and that resulting bridge won’t meet Londoners’ needs for a new pedestrian river crossing.
“I was really shocked to discover that this bridge is receiving £60m from the joint transport budgets of the Mayor and the national government, but the public have no guaranteed right of way,” Green Party member of the London Assembly Darren Johnson said.
“Central London is a 24 hour city, but under the current proposals there is effectively no bridge for at least a quarter of the day. Given the scale of public funding for this bridge I would have expected the Mayor to have pinned down guarantees that Londoners will be able to use this bridge to cross the river 24/7 in ten or twenty years’ time.”
The AM likened the bridge to the Mayor’s docklands cable car project, which is officially known as the “Emirates Airline” after the gulf state airline brought the rights to the name.
“The cable car was meant to help commuters get across the river, but got turned into a tourist attraction by the Mayor. This looks increasingly like another of the Mayor’s high profile, tourism projects funded from tube and bus fares,” he added.
When questioned in the bridge at the London Assembly earlier this year Boris Johnson said the project had an “extremely positive business case”.
“It will directly support policies in my Transport Strategy for making London a more walkable and liveable city and support the economic development of London,” he said.
Mr Johnson said that the bridge’s opening hours were set to coincide with the peak demand period for visitors to the South Bank: “Many parks and gardens in London close when it is dark and the intention with the Garden Bridge is to keep it open to coincide with the greatest demand for use.”
The Garden Bridge Trust however said the decision to close the bridge overnight was “in no way related to demand from tourists”.
“The Bridge is for Londoners and visitors to London alike,” the Trust said in a statement. “Therefore, the timing structure has been put in place to mitigate concerns about noise carrying to residential areas, and is a condition of the planning application.”
On the subject of ticketing, the Trust added: “The Garden Bridge Trust has no intention to introduce ticketing for the Bridge. It will be free and open for all.”
It acknowledged that the bridge could be closed due to private functions, however.
“The Trust is exploring the possibility of holding a limited number of private events on the bridge each year. Every effort would be made to ensure the bridge remains open to the general public during these events, but there may be occasions where the bridge is closed.”
The bridge is planned to run from Temple Station on the north side of the Thames to the Southbank Centre.