When the designer of London 2012’s Olympic Cauldron laid out plans for a unique pedestrian bridge across the Thames, thickly adorned with trees and plants, he might have thought it would be a walk in the park.
But debate over Thomas Heatherwick’s proposed Garden Bridge is still intensifying, after officials at St Paul’s Cathedral registered a furious complaint that it would spoil views of Sir Christopher Wren’s famous dome.
The cathedral’s “Surveyor to the Fabric” claimed that the “expensive and controversial project” would have “irreversible impacts on some of most iconic the views of St Paul’s”. Writing to Westminster Council, which gave the bridge planning permission earlier this month, Oliver Caroe stated “significant misgivings” – arguing the cathedral “can currently find no record of having been consulted on this proposal”.
In a letter dated 28 November, he added that occassional glimpses of St Paul’s in gaps between buildings will be lost, as well as more extensive views from riverside footpaths. “Your own report spells out the harms, not just to the protected views from Waterloo Bridge and the South Bank but also to incidental views (both at day and at night) that London currently freely enjoys,” Mr Caroe said.
Changes to London’s skyline – not least the building of the Shard skyscraper – have long proved contentious over how they affect views of the cathedral.
But the Garden Bridge Trust hit back at the latest complaints yesterday, telling The Independent that their project would “protect existing views along the River Thames, enhance others and provide new beautiful views up and down the river that are currently not possible”.
Arguing that the possible effect on views of the cityscape were taken into consideration in their proposals, the group said: “We produced over 45 photomontages to demonstrate the effects of the footbridge as part of the environmental statement which assessed the impact on a number of views.”
The cathedral had also raised concerns that English Heritage had not made “public representations” on the possible “harms”. Yet the organisation has emerged as an unexpected supporter of the scheme.
Tim Jones, English Heritage’s Principal Inspector of Historic Buildings and Areas for London said: “We believe that the introduction of this bridge... will change but not cause harm.”
He added: “The bridge... would be a picturesque addition to the riverscape.”
In a statement, Westminster Council said: “St Paul’s made representations to the council prior to the application being considered and the committee took their response into account. They were one of 270 people and organisations who responded to the planning application.”
The bridge would connect the South Bank to Temple station. According to the Garden Bridge Trust, it “will provide a major new green space which is free and open to all”. They also claim it will offer reduced pedestrian journey times between Temple Underground Station and the South Bank. The project was originally the brainchild of the actress Joanna Lumley.
The latest controversy surrounding the project follows complaints that public funds are due to contribute £60m towards the £175m project in a time of austerity – half contributed by Transport for London, with the remaining £30m from the Government. But the Trust argue it will be “principally funded by donations from individuals, charitable foundations and companies and has had £110m pledged to date”.
There have also been complaints that large groups will be prevented from walking over the bridge due to potential crowd control issues. The Trust says it will “actively manage visitor levels”.
The bridge proposal, which is in the latter stages of being processed by the Greater London Authority, has previously found support from the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. A spokesman for the Mayor said: “The Deputy Mayor for Planning, Sir Edward Lister, will judge this application on its merits at an internal planning meeting on Friday.”
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