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Garden Bridge

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:30 pm on 7th September 2016.

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Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall 6:30 pm, 7th September 2016

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work on supporting hedgehogs. Perhaps he shares my view that, if there were fewer badgers, we might have more hedgehogs, but that was not a consideration in any discussion to do with the garden bridge.

I am not a nimby and I am not afraid to support unpopular causes—I support some popular ones too, as we saw recently. For example, I supported the London Eye from the beginning when many Members of the House thought it was wrong—they opposed the London Eye because they did not want to be overlooked when they were out on the Terrace. The London Eye was delivered without a penny of public money. It was painstakingly argued for by the two brilliant architects David Marks and Julia Barfield, who are my constituents. They spoke and discussed it with every group to win their confidence. We are going back some years now, but most importantly at that time, the London Eye was the catalyst for regeneration on that part of the South Bank. A specific trust was set up so that a percentage of the profit goes directly to keep the area policed and cleaned. The Garden Bridge Trust has behaved so differently. Its consultation, if it existed at all, can only be described as lacklustre. It treated local views with disdain, acting always as if anyone who objected was some kind of stupid. I was very disappointed when another constituent of mine, Joanna Lumley, who I have huge admiration for, at various times almost disparaged people who had genuine objections.

Now, I have to admit that when I first heard about a garden bridge across the Thames I, probably like most people, thought “Oh, that sounds really nice.” When described, the proposed garden bridge leaves the impression of being an enchanting mythical passage between Temple and the South Bank, an escape from noise and pollution, a tranquil hiding place. Who would not have thought that that was a nice idea? When we look at the reality, however, we see that it is very different. It will land in my constituency on a beautiful site overlooking the Thames that has 29 mature trees and wonderful views of St Paul’s. The site is an asset of community value dearly loved by locals and visitors. This public open space will be lost to a huge concrete visitor entrance-retail centre building manned by security guards. This area was won through a long and hard-fought battle by the local community through the 1970s and 1980s to secure green open space beside the river for the benefit of local residents, local workers and visitors.

Once I had really looked into the garden bridge proposals, I realised that even if the concept seemed nice, it was in the wrong place. There were other parts of the river where a transport crossing was far more needed. More crucially, there is the cost. This is not simply a local issue or even a London issue. It carries national significance in respect of the use of public funds and the delivery of a major infrastructure project in a specific location to the value of £185 million. In my view the arguments are very, very weak in respect of its need, supporting business case and, especially, location. Other areas of London have a significant need for investment of this sort, as do so many other important regions of our country.