Lord Davies loves saying that the Garden Bridge is a gift to the nation from generous philanthropists. But ahead of his desired “crunch meeting” with Sadiq Khan it may be worth checking out what kind of gift this is, who it’s from and who is the beneficiary.
It is little publicised, but according to his House of Lords Register of Interests Lord Davies has been a member of the Advisory Committee of Native Land, a development company which specialises in super-expensive property for the super-rich, since 2010. You may know them from their Neo Bankside project next to Tate Modern by Richard Rogers which contains no social or affordable housing. Excellent reporting by Southwark’s 35% campaign suggests Native Land repeatedly reduced their social responsibilities in favour of pure profit.
You may also know Native Land from an aborted project next to Lambeth Bridge, 8 Albert Embankment. George Turner on OurCity.London gives a good analysis of the issues behind the project, including discussing allegations that unelected Lambeth Strategic Director of Neighbourhoods and Growth Sue Foster (who met with Lumley and Heatherwick about the Garden Bridge before the procurements) was aware the developer, Native Land, provided different profit estimates to the democratic planning process as they were privately expecting.
Native Land’s latest scheme is Ludgate House, a massive “destination neighbourhood comprising cultural, retail and leisure amenities as well as new office space and housing”.
35% Campaign have given the project some research, showing how Native Land claimed including affordable housing would mean the scheme was not financially viable – though they lost this battle with the site sitting in Southwark, not Sue Foster’s Lambeth. However, the deal that they have negotiated with the council is pretty beneficial for the developer, not least because their Section 106 payments, which are in lieu of including affordable housing, are not dependent upon the final value of the scheme, estimated at £1billion.
So, why is this all relevant to the Garden Bridge? The site is not that close to Heatherwick’s folly, as you can see on the map below – Davies’ Ludgate House development (B) is a little further along the river path to the bridge site (A, obviously). However, the Strategic Outline Business Case of the bridge does state that it will “benefit the regeneration of the Bankside Opportunity Area” and adds that the area will support 1,900 homes in significant redevelopment.
But what kind of redevelopment, what kind of homes and who benefits from the Garden Bridge’s proximity?
GARDEN BRIDGE & DEVELOPMENT UPLIFT
Marked ‘C’ on the above map is 190 Strand, an integral part of the “regeneration” of the Temple area which has been corporately rebranded Northbank, offering flats priced £6-10 million. Garden Bridge misTrustee Alistair Subba Row is the Chair of the Northbank Freeholders’ Group and is also a property consultant for the Temple area with Farebrother and the South Bank with Union Street Partners. It is obviously in his, and his clients’, interests to do what he can to push profit and uplift in each area higher and higher.
Dame Margaret Hodge made reference to Subba Row in her report, also mentioned on this site HERE.
This huge uplift in value of luxury property sold off-shore to the super-rich is in effect coming at the expense of public money. The public put in £60m of transport money to a shiny gimmick which has the primary function of giving an uplift in value of private developments amounting to around £85 million with no benefit to the public or public purse at all.
It’s quite a windfall for the developers who would not have to lift a finger for the profit, though are represented on the board of the ‘charity’ delivering the uplift. This aspect of the Garden Bridge has been described excellently by former London Assembly Member Darren Jones in this argument for land value tax.
THE GARDEN BRIDGE & LUDGATE HOUSE
So let’s think again of Ludgate House, the development for which we can assume Lord Davies has advised on and with investors who will demand the most uplift in value to maximise their profit. This scheme of nine buildings, including a 49 storey residential tower, which will offer prime views over the site of the Garden Bridge.
Northbank developers have frequently used the image of Heatherwick’s bridge in their marketing material aimed at offshore investors who will likely never set foot in their properties, let alone move to the area and contribute to the local community and economy. One can only expect that Native Land will use the proximity of the Garden Bridge to promote their multi-million pound flats and would similarly photoshop in misleading CGI renders of it onto the imaginary apartment views throughout their marketing blurb distributed to Asia and the Middle East.
The Garden Bridge is, after all, a shallow, trite marketing gimmick, a one-liner whose purpose is not transport, community or environment but private profit. As architectural writer Jack Self states, “the logic behind the Garden Bridge is really one of economic growth, it’s really about profit… and why are we designing our cities around profit?”, before stating that the Garden Bridge “represents a sign that the interests of the people are subsumed below the interest of private corporation”.
LORD DAVIES & SADIQ KHAN
So, when Lord Davies meets Sadiq to discuss the Garden Bridge will he also mention that he works for a company that could hugely financially benefit from it? When he talks about communities benefiting from his “charity”, will he explain that those communities are ones for super-rich off-shore investors who so often leave property empty as an investment vehicle for capital growth rather than any existent community who have lived and worked in the areas for decades?
Will Sadiq, who claims to be fighting for affordable housing and creating a city “for all Londoners”, ask Lord Davies why a company he works for appears to fight against offering affordable housing? Will he make any connection between the “charity” of the Garden Bridge and massive financial profit it offers to developers who are entangled with the project to the detriment of the communities and Londoners who live nearby?
The Garden Bridge is not about greening the city, helping local populations, regenerating areas in need or creating key transport infrastructure. It is about delivering a publicly funded architectural one-liner to develop brand identities of some of London’s most expensive neo-liberal developments, sold to some of the richest people in the world to the detriment of the city.
Of course, there is no allegation that Lord Davies is solely involved in the Garden Bridge for Native Land’s benefit, though it is more evidence of the way that politics, property, profit and charity seem tightly packed together in the chumocracy of the establishment. Davies may well be working on the Garden Bridge purely out of generosity and an actual misguided sense it will help Londoners, but the fact that it also helps some super-rich developers, one of which he is connected to, does little to help present their defence of charity, philanthropy and goodness.
The Garden Bridge would NOT be a gift for Londoners from generous philanthropists. It would be a gift from Londoners to Lord Davies, Alistair Subba Row and developers they represent. Is this the kind of London Sadiq Khan is really fighting for?
Please drop Sadiq Khan an email asking him NOT TO SIGN THE GARDEN BRIDGE GUARANTEE and asking him to meet with TCOS, opponents and experts of the development as well as open up a full public inquiry and offer all evidence to the police for investigation.
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