8 Dec 2016

The suggestion that the Garden Bridge is a good thing environmentally doesn’t get challenged enough. To anyone who has read up on the project it is apparent and obvious, but many who only give a cursory look or make a quick judgement presume it to be a beacon of ecological hope. However, it is exactly this kind of greenwash development which does more environmental damage than good, and it also diverting funds away from genuine greening projects London so urgently needs as well as maintenance for existing parks.

Jim Gardiner recently stepped down from his role as Vice President of the RHS and in doing so severed the RHS’s uneasy relationship to the Garden Bridge as he also stepped away from the contentious development. He had been a Trustee of the Garden Bridge Trust but his retirement now means that team behind the development don’t have a single horticultural, environmental or green backer.

However, they have quite a few green opposers, and this post looks at some of that environmental opposition.


This is the park which will be concreted over for the Garden Bridge South Bank landing building, incorporating a commercial unit and a platform which doubles up as queue system for 2,500 people and space for corporate entertainment. This is a much appeciated and used public park and the avenue of plane trees which will be removed will be a huge loss not only to the character of London but its ecology too.

The RHS had always been uncomfortable bedfellows with the Garden Bridge Trust and repeatedly distanced themselves from their former VPs relationship. At a time when Kew Gardens was suffering massive cuts there wasn’t much support to be seen to be associating with a private concrete development sucking up £60m of public money:

@follyforlondon Thanks for your comments regarding our involvement in the Garden Bridge – please see below for info

— The RHS (@The_RHS) July 22, 2016


But it didn’t stop the Garden Bridge Trust from milking a connection to the reputable charity to further their façade of green. That façadeness was picked up in a 2015 article the Guardian architecture writer, Oliver Wainwright, discussing the issue of dressing up unsustainable development with urban parsley to give it the pretence of ecological virtue, saying: “It’s easy to giggle at the folly of the garden bridge, but this wilting parsley has become a scourge. Across London, this green dressing is being used to soften the blow of steroidal overdevelopment”.

He described the more likely environmental scenario as: “Joanna Lumley’s plan, that people will be able to “walk through woodlands over one of the greatest rivers in the world,” is more likely to end up seeing crowds shuffling across a windswept deck, picking their way between a few shrubs that are clinging on for dear life.”


But, should we expect anything of a development which is is in partnership with dodgy mining conglomerate Glencore? Charlie Kronick, senior climate adviser of Greenpeace UK, said of the partnership: “Glencore are just another fossil fuel peddler hoping they can greenwash their grubby reputation by giving London another shiny toy”, while Andy Whitmore of the London Mining Network described Glencore’s involvement as “shocking”, adding “Glencore has become synonymous with the corporate abuse of power. It seems particularly odd for a Garden Bridge because of its [Glencore’s] clear links with climate change and the fact it is one of the largest exporters of seaborne coal in the world.”


This is the park which will be concreted over for the Garden Bridge South Bank landing building, incorporating a commercial unit and a platform which doubles up as queue system for 2,500 people and space for corporate entertainment. This is a much appeciated and used public park and the avenue of plane trees which will be removed will be a huge loss not only to the character of London but its ecology too.

Not only is the destruction of an existing green space incurring the wrath of environmentalists, but the bridge itself is constructed of 15,000 tonnes of concrete clad in Glencore mined metals – hardly a sustainable development at the best of times, but when this amount of CO2 isn’t even providing any proven transport or community benefit it is pure vandalism.

And so environmental organisations and individuals have spoken about the Garden Bridge. Let’s see what they have to say:



“Londoners will not be gaining a new, wildlife rich habitat and consequently, the bridge will not gain RSPB backing… As supporters of green infrastructure in London, the RSPB can suggest much easier and cheaper ways to make life more pleasant for Londoners and urban wildlife. £175 million could do a lot to boost the way we manage water and waste or generate energy in the capital in ways that would clean our environment and better support some of the 60% of species currently vanishing around us. Indeed, Londoners can collectively add to the capital’s habitats and support much more wildlife than this £175 million bridge ever could.”



Carlo Laurenzi OBE, CEO:

“The location and design of this bridge seems to reflect personal vanities rather than any meaningful attempt to connect Londoners to the capital’s rich natural and horticultural heritage. London is crying out for better green spaces that will provide real benefits to the people who live and work here. Rather than investing huge sums of public money in what is essentially a tourist attraction, we should be rescuing London’s under-funded parks and creating green spaces across London.”

Matthew Frith, director of policy and planning:

“Londoners didn’t call for it and nature doesn’t need it. The Garden Bridge promises much, but its ecological contribution comes at a cost that is wholly disproportionate to its impact. 60% of species are in decline across the UK and more and more people are disengaging from the natural world. Meanwhile many of London’s wildlife sites are under threat from declining management budgets and developments.”



The urban-greening charity planted one million trees for £4m, just £4 each compared to the Garden Bridge’s £636,000 per tree: “The sort of money required to build what is a very expensive bridge would go a long way in terms of tree planting.”



The London Assembly Member for the Green Party has opposed the Garden Bridge throughout. In City Hall she puts pressure on Sadiq Khan where possible to stop his tacit support for the development, and also sometimes on Twitter:

Just along from Mayor's photo op, proposed site of the garden bridge where plenty of trees are set to be cut down!

— Sian Berry (@sianberry) May 28, 2016



Longstanding Garden Bridge opponant Liberal Democrat Assembly Member has spoken of how the massive financial investment offers no real greenspace return:

“The footprint of the proposed Garden Bridge is 8,000m², which is 2 acres. In contrast the Thames Tideway Tunnel is adding 3 acres – or 12,000m² – of additional open space to London as engineering shafts are landscaped and new pocket parks created on the banks of the Thames.”



The “Guerrilla Gardener”, who deals first hand with genuine community greening, has long opposed the Garden Bridge. He was in three videos made by Halloumi Films recently, and stated:

“This Garden Bridge isn’t about gaining a new garden for London, because we’re losing one. We’re losing grassy open space, a wide public area at a point in the river where passers by enjoy a little calm between the intense bottle necks around the Royal Festival Hall and onwards to the Tate Modern. Thirty mature London plane trees, big trees, great for mitigating air pollution, the kind of big trees that we need more in London, felled to make way for the large, concrete offices, cafes, a few toilets and a gift shop. This isn’t a garden bridge, it’s a concrete megastructure.”

“Each tree costs £636,000 on this bridge, and they’re only allowing them to grow up to 15 metres, these are barely trees, they’re just little shrubs compared with the great London plane that we have lining streets that can grow up to double that height quite easily. And that’s what we’re losing, thirty of these magnificent London planes that were planted in the 70’s on the South Bank, they’re reaching their prime now, a beautiful tranquil place to pass through, are being felled to make way for these lollipop trees on the bridge.”



The landscape architecture educator and writer, says of the Garden Bridge:

“It is a tragedy that so much money has been spent already, but there is a way forward. The remaining money dedicated to the Garden Bridge should be reallocated to real and meaningful green infrastructure projects across the city. That would spread the money in employment more generously, instead of concentrating it in a couple of celebrity designers’ pockets, and provide visible and useful benefit everywhere. Green infrastructure, in the words of the Landscape Institute (see these documents), helps “make the most of the land – at the same time helping wildlife flourish, reducing flood risk, providing green open space for all, and delivering a wide range of economic, health and community benefits.” The Garden Bridge does none of these.”



The former leader of the Green Party of England and Wales had this to say:

“The £60m of public funding dedicated to this folly could be used to create green spaces all over the city. Instead they are planning to fell trees and ruin open spaces on both sides of the river to create a private park with no transport value at all.”



After the Garden Bridge Trust claimed that the £185m was good investment as it would help bees pollinate and cross the river, there was expert disagreement:

@follyforlondon I don't see how- bees don't like flying over open water, they have difficulty navigating & winds deter them

— Ldn Beekeepers Assoc (@LondonBeeKeeper) November 11, 2015


Other vocal opponents of the Garden Bridge include Dusty Gedge, a respected keynote speaker on urban greening, who regularly vocalises his opposition, as do The Street Tree on Twitter and local Green Party groups including Lambeth and Greenwich while the Landscape Institute put on an event called Vandals or Visionaries which covered the Garden Bridge, in it Bob Bagley, creator of Deptford’s Sayes Court, “a new home for landscape”, said that the Garden Bridge ideals had been “puked up after a drunken night out”.



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