The Garden Bridge

 Photo: ‘Layers of murk’: an artist’s impression of the Thames garden bridge. Photograph: -/AFP/Getty Images

Recorded for The Blackshaw Arts Hour, 14th February 2015. Transcript below:

Our arts thing this week is London’s Garden Bridge.

For those of you who aren’t aware of the project, it’s intended to be a pedestrian bridge in the centre of London, covered in plants.

There’s coverage for the bridge in the news this week because the Jane Duncan, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, has called for a halt to the project.

If you’re wondering why the bridge is being built in the first place, or why Jane Duncan is asking for a rethink, the Guardian is the place to go. Ian Jack’s opinion piece ‘Why is London’s Garden Bridge worth as much as five Lancashire museums? Ask Joanna Lumley’ is particularly powerful and unforgiving, and for me, exactly on the money. I’ll quote a bit for you now:

Compare and contrast these two stories. In Lancashire, five museums will close on 31 March because the county council needs to cut its museums budget from £1.3m to less than £100,000 so that it can maintain at least a skeletal version of statutory, essential services such as rubbish collection. Two of the museums, including the last steam-powered weaving mill in Britain, have been designated as sites of national importance. Another five Lancashire museums have had their council funding withdrawn and been left to look after themselves – their future is uncertain. Forty of the county’s 74 libraries are also to be culled. Other parts of England, particularly in the north, are of course familiar with similar closures and cutbacks, but in Lancashire they amount to a cultural disembowelment. First they came for the mills, you might say, and then for the libraries, and then for the museums that the mills had become.

Now let’s move to London (as everybody should do, obviously, if they have the money). The national museums and galleries look in good shape, their budgets reprieved from the expected cuts in November’s spending review by a chancellor who apparently understood their spiritual as well as economic value. But London, even in these straitened times, not only has money available to keep cultural spending at the same level, it can actually increase it. About £60m in public funds, for example, is to be spent on an ornamental footbridge across the Thames, the Garden Bridge, which was originally to have been built from the philanthropy of private enterprise until the estimates of its cost rose by £115m to £175m, at which point the London mayor Boris Johnson pledged £30m from Transport for London, with another £30m promised from George Osborne at the Treasury.

Rowan Moore has contributed an opinion piece today, which I’ll quote a shorter section from:

Richard Morrison of the Times wondered why the project attracts opponents “whose hostility seems implacable”. Why indeed? Why should so much anger be stirred by a project that started with Joanna Lumley’s innocent and benign dream of commemorating Princess Diana by projecting greenery across the Thames? Why should so many want to trample on Joanna’s flowers?

I’m a huge fan of the London arts scene, Joanna Lumley, and flowers. But this is absurd. Do go and read the articles on the garden for a full outline of the controversy surrounding the project, including the choice of architect and more financial detail.

I support spending money on the arts  – the ‘then what are we fighting for’ quote from Winston Churchill comes to mind but this is almost certainly bogus, so I’ll move swiftly on.

There are a lot of things the government should be spending money on – junior doctors, saving our libraries, better recycling, to name but a few. This week has seen the launch of a ‘cash flow fund’ at London’s New Diorama Theatre – of course I’m biased but I would much prefer to see London’s arts money, public and private, put into schemes such as this. Or just send the lot up to Lancashire.

Over Christmas my dad visited the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. He said of his visit that it made him really proud to be from manchester. For a boy born in Salford 70 years ago this is no small deal – I’ve never heard him say anything like that before so alongside the redevelopment of Salford quays I’m really glad for him. His love of the arts and influenced mine, and visa versa. Even from a London-focused arts fan like me, I expect better for the rest of the country.

We’re seeing projects outside of London – there’s great work happening in the arts scene on the south coast, for example, so it’s all possible. For Valentine’s day I’d like Boris, George and Dave to spread the love of the arts North of Watford.


The Garden Bridge