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I was aware of the Ramblers’ objections, but the bridge is certainly planned to be open to all. It will include step-free access and there will be no charge to use it. I am aware of a media report that there will be bans on large groups, but I understand that that is not correct, although they will be encouraged to phone in advance to find out the best times for a large group to visit. There is no ban on large groups. The bridge will be closed at midnight, in line with local attractions and transport facilities. Again, that is consistent with other parks in London, although some of them close earlier, at dusk.
There will also be some days, or parts of days, when the bridge is closed. These days will be limited. The purpose will be to ensure that income can be generated to ensure that the maintenance of the bridge is self-funding. There will be a maximum of 12 of those days through the year. There are concerns about the use of the land on the South Bank, which have been clearly articulated in the House, and I certainly sympathise with residents’ concerns about the loss of some of the trees in this area. However, the Garden Bridge Trust plans to plant more than 270 trees on the bridge, as well as thousands of bulbs and plants, to create a tranquil place, which I hope would be used by residents in the area.
I understand the concerns that the hon. Lady has clearly articulated about how the trust is being run, how public money is being spent and how much transparency there is around this project, but there have been several reports on and investigations into this project. The London Assembly has reviewed the procurement process, the National Audit Office has reviewed the project and is currently reviewing the Department’s grant control measures, and the Charity Commission is looking at how the trust is run as a charity. We have never sought to make any secret of these investigations. I can go further by saying that the fact that they have taken place demonstrates the robust scrutiny that has been applied to this project to ensure it is being run properly and that we get the best value for money for the taxpayer.