Some time ago, the Garden Bridge Trust commissioned someone to make a video showing the wide-support that their proposal for a publicly-funded privately-owned tourist attraction across the Thames between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge.  They were having trouble finding any reputable environmental organisations to appear in it and the producer approached me, as Chair of the Inner London Ramblers.

Obviously, I asked a load of questions before making a decision.  When I queried why the bridge was going to be closed at night, they said that I should think of it more like a park than a bridge, and parks shut at night.  I never found out why something that's more like a park than a bridge should get funding from Transport for London.  I declined to lend the Ramblers name to their promotional video. 

As the project proceeded, and more detail of the location, design and funding of the bridge became evident, the Ramblers in Inner London took a position to actively oppose the project.

An article in today's Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/nov/06/garden-bridge-mobile-phone-signals-tracking-london) outlines how users of the bridge will be monitored by 'enhanced CCTV', have their mobile phones tracked, and be subject to 'policing' by employees of the Garden Bridge Trust.  This is outlined in the Garden Bridge Trust's "Garden Bridge Illegal Trading Anti-social Behaviour Crowd Control and General Enforcement Management Plan" document.

Also in this document, are details of thirty 'prohibited acts' (exceptions to which can be granted by the Trust).  These include:

  • Use any kite
  • Make or give a speech or address
  • Play any game or engage in any form of sport or exercise, except running or jogging across the bridge
  • Organise or take part in any assembly, performance, rally, procession or gathering of any kind;
  • Consume any alcohol (Presumably this restriction will be lifted for private events on the 8-12 weekends a year when the bridge is closed to the public)
  • Release balloons

Now, none of these activities are normally banned in public spaces and meeting one's friends for a beer and a bit of kite flying and a speech to wish someone a happy birthday is the sort of thing that parks are commonly used for.  But that won't be allowed on the Garden Bridge which is, as you'll remember, "more like a park than a bridge").

Note, too, that the act of leading a group of ramblers, walking (not running nor jogging) across the bridge and stopping in the middle to describe the views of the city made possible by the more than £60M of public money going into the scheme, would break at least three of these restrictions.

When you breach them, the Trust's staff will be empowered (under the government's Community Safety Accreditation scheme) to demand your name and address.  Note that this is actually a stronger right than a normal police officer has; they can only do so if they are reporting you for a criminal offence.

So, what we seem to have is a heavily-surveilled publicly-funded private space in which people are heavily constrained in what normal, legal activities they may do, and threatened by a privately-run security force with police like powers.  And, remember, we're paying for this with:

  1. The enclosure and building upon of currently freely-accessible public space
  2. The loss of amenity on the Thames Path national trail - even if you can push through the additional millions of visitors to an already crowded stretch of the path, fabulous views of the City skyline from the path and the nearby bridges will be lost
  3. £40M pounds of tax payer money given directly to the Garden Bridge Trust
  4. £20M pounds of tax payer money lent at generous, subsidised terms to the Garden Trust
  5. A guarantee, by Transport for London, to cover the estimated £3.5M maintenance costs of the bridge in perpetuity, worth roughly £120M pounds.

Do support the campaign to stop this enclosure of public space and mis-allocation of public funds.  Go to http://www.tcos.org.uk/ to sign the petition and find out more about how to stop this folly.

(Phil Marson, Chair, Inner London Ramblers)