The doomed plan for a garden bridge across the Thames has been defended by one of the project’s strongest proponents, the actor Joanna Lumley.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, effectively pulled the plug on the controversial plan on Friday, announcing that he would not provide the vital financial guarantees needed for construction to begin.
The Garden Bridge Trust, which is responsible for realising Thomas Heatherwick’s design, vowed to fight on despite Khan’s decision, pinning its hopes on persuading another public body, such as the Department for Transport, to step in as guarantor.
Lumley, who is well known as Patsy in BBC sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, originally devised the proposal for a garden over the Thames featuring hundreds of trees and thousands of other plants, winning support from Boris Johnson, Khan’s predecessor as mayor and the then chancellor, George Osborne.
Speaking to the Times newspaper, Lumley said Khan’s decision to remove financial backing was “absolutely shattering, devastating”.
“The negativity troubles me in my heart. I hope we’re not turning into the sort of country that instantly says no before it considers saying yes,” she said. “A nation that just pulls the shutters down. The silent majority still love the bridge, but of course they were not asked what they think.”
Osborne committed £60m of public funding to the scheme when he was in office. The Department for Transport has already given £30m and Transport for London contributed £30m, £20m of which structured as a loan.
In a study of the project commissioned by city hall, the Labour MP Margaret Hodge found the bridge was likely to cost more than £200m, and that £37.4m of public funds had already been spent without any building work taking place.
Lumley told the Times the project had been politicised. “There was so much negativity about this £60m of public money,” she said. “All we heard was £60m, £60m, £60m. But . . . it’ll work out at about 32p a person in the UK. It’s not as if we’re stealing bread from people.”
In a letter to Lord Davies, the Labour life peer and former government minister who chairs the trust, Khan said the cash had been spent before final land agreements had been sealed.
Khan wrote: “It is concerning that a huge amount of effort and expenditure has been expended on other aspects of the project when there is a real possibility that agreement will not be reached before the expiry of planning permission, or at all.”
Responding to Khan’s decision, Davies said the trust had received the letter with great regret.
“We will study the contents of the letter in detail before responding formally. The Garden Bridge Trust was set up at the request of Transport for London and the Department of Transport to deliver the project which had received public money,” he said.
“We have had enormous support from our funders and are very confident we can raise the remaining funds required. But sadly, the mayor of London has taken a different decision to those in place when the project started.”