7 Jan 2017

The Garden Bridge is privately owned and offers no legal right of way. Like any privately owned public space there will be different levels of private policing, from ‘visitor hosts’ in a friendly uniform who smile as they great you and advice on your expected queuing wait to get on, through to private security and then to the invisible forces – the wifi monitoring system and CCTV linked to anonymous people in a room somewhere.

The wifi monitoring system is to be used for the crowd control management. Nearly everyone now carries a mobile phone and these will be tracked by sensors across the bridge so that the ‘visitor hosts’ know how many people to keep kettled in the queues at each end and if they need to install a contraflow system on the bridge itself using pedestrian barriers and temporary infrastructure. Though similar wifi monitoring software has previously raised serious questions about snooping and privacy.

Both north and south sides of the river will have a “Disney Style” tensile barrier queue system. If average the ‘dwell time’ on the bridge hits 30 minutes then the ‘visitor hosts’ move into ‘elevated operations’ mode and will implement the queue system. Any longer average dwell time than this and the queues build up so you may well be waiting 40 minutes or more to use the bridge. ‘Visitor hosts’ will in this instance be advising people to leave and come back later.

Remember this had £60m of public transport money.

 

There are extensive ‘conditions of entry‘ to use the Garden Bridge if which some are plain bizarre. You cannot enjoy a glass of wine on the bridge (unless you’re a guest of one of the private parties when it will be closed to us public), “use language which publicly intimates that any article, commodity, facility or service can be obtained on the Garden Bridge or elsewhere”, “take part in any assembly, gathering, performance, rally, procession or gathering of any kind”

There will be heavy CCTV coverage and the ‘visitor hosts’ will “make use of a smart tablet whilst on patrol” with access to these CCTV image, with “HD Smart CCTV” at the two entrance/exit areas. They may also be wearing a body camera, as if the culture of surveillance needed increasing. They are also legally allowed to demand any member of public’s name and address as well as seize and dispose of your property if they have reasonable ground you have contravened one of the conditions of entry. Part of their job description is also, ominously, “gathering of information and intelligence” and “personal and property searches”.

The Garden Bridge Trust state they are able “to conduct an inspection of property
being carried by a person seeking to gain entry and if necessary to undertake a wand search of their person followed by a ‘pat-down’ and/or visual inspection of outer clothing which has been unbuttoned by the person at the request of a Visitor Host”. So, in these heightened security times I can imagine the fun experience of queueing to be ‘patted down’ by a visitor host simply to cross a publicly funded bridge.

 

The planting on the bridge is being artificially clipped – most planting will be below 1m in height while the tree canopies are being trimmed to start from 2m height. This leaves a visible clear band across the whole of the bridge, purely for the private security to monitor everyone at one time. The other effect of this is that at all times you will be very aware of the other 2,500 people on the bridge. As you stand in your 0.8 metres squared bit of hard paving you will at no time feel like you are having a relaxing stroll through an English garden.

 

The bridge is even designed to present itself as a private, invite-only space. The management plan states:

“access control through the use of gates, walls, and other physical obstacles together with the use of other symbolic barriers such as signage will emphasise the reality of a Bridge boundary and draw a distinction with surrounding open spaces. During those periods when the bridge is closed, physical security measures will reinforce the fact that this is a protected environment.”

 

Or, if you live in Joanna Lumley’s head, the Garden Bridge will be “a place with no noise or traffic where the only sounds will be birdsong and bees buzzing and the wind in the trees and, below, the steady rush of water” and “a peaceful way of crossing London in peace and quietness, this would be a place where you could maybe slow down, hear birds singing, hear leaves rustling, get a little bit of calm, take the heat out of the situation”. Yes, Joanna, of course.

 

 

This post was originally part of The Garden Bridge 12 Days of Christmas.


 

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