Full judicial review of planned garden bridge to go ahead

The High Court today ruled that key questions about the funding of the £175m Garden Bridge over the River Thames in London need to be answered in a full judicial review of the project.

A legal challenge was launched by law firm Leigh Day on behalf of local resident Michael Ball last January, claiming that in granting planning permission last year Lambeth Council had not properly considered the impact of the Bridge on iconic views in central London and also failed to secure maintenance funding for the 125 year life of the Bridge.

Last month Mr Justice Mitting in the Planning Court ruled on the papers that the ground of challenge relating to the impact on iconic views from the Bridge could proceed to a full judicial review, but the challenge to the funding for the long-term maintenance of the Bridge was unarguable and also academic since Boris Johnson had promised to guarantee these costs.

But today in a hearing in the Planning Court Mr Justice Ouseley ruled that Lambeth may have failed to secure proper funding for the maintenance costs of the bridge over its life time, with the risk that the public sector might have to pick up the £3.5m annual bill for running the bridge.

Mr Justice Ouseley’s ruling will be a major setback for the Garden Bridge Trust, who argued that the funding issues were academic since the Trust was confident it could raise the £175m capital costs and £3.5m annual maintenance costs.

Mr David Forsdick QC, acting for Mr Ball, stated that the planning justification for what would be a wholly exceptional bridge and an iconic tourist attraction with virtually no income stream meant that maintenance and funding issues needed to be faced before the bridge was built.

It would be unlawful for Lambeth Council to delegate these key matters to another council or the Mayor of London, but equally they may be guilty of simply assuming the funding would materialise.

The full judicial review is scheduled to be heard in the High Court later in June.

Speaking after the judgment, Richard Stein, partner at Leigh Day and solicitor for Mr Ball said:

“We are pleased that the funding arrangements for the maintenance of the Garden Bridge will be subject to the full scrutiny of a judicial review.

“We believe the failure by Lambeth Council to tie down the maintenance funding, estimated by the Garden Bridge Trust to be the equivalent of £3.5m per annum for the next 125 years, is unlawful as there are no proper arrangements in place to ensure that these costs will not end up coming out of public funds.

“This is a vanity project which slipped under the radar for publicly funded projects, by initially claiming to be a privately funded project.  Ultimately, in this age of austerity, we have the Mayor of London and Chancellor of the Exchequer each guaranteeing a contribution from public funds of £30m to the capital cost of the project.”

Construction needs to begin by the end of the year to avoid a clash with the impending Thames Tideway Tunnel, one of the largest infrastructure projects in Europe, which will excavate at Blackfriars, close to the proposed site of the garden bridge.