What’s the proposal?
The Garden Bridge - a new pedestrian crossing over the River Thames - would run from the roof of Temple tube station on the north bank of the River Thames to Queen’s Walk by the London Studios on the south bank. It would be 366 metres (1204 ft) long and 30 metres (98 ft) across at its widest point. The bridge would feature an abundance of plants, trees, shrubs and wildflowers.
Who's behind the idea?
It is supported by Transport for London but based on an idea conceived by the actor Joanna Lumley and designed by Thomas Heatherwick. The Garden Bridge Trust was set up to oversee the project and horticulturalist Dan Pearson has been engaged to devise a planting scheme for the garden.
What is Lambeth’s role?
Lambeth is one of the two planning authorities who’ve approved the Garden Bridge proposal – the other is Westminster.
Lambeth’s Planning Applications Committee resolved to grant permission in November 2014, subject to the Trust complying with 46 planning conditions detailed in the meeting minutes, viewable here. A number of these conditions require the submission of additional information to the authority and referral back to Planning Applications Committee for formal determination.
As with all major planning applications, Lambeth council consulted widely and carefully considered a range of opinions raised by interested parties, both in favour and opposed to the development proposal.
The Mayor of London advised that he was content for the Local Planning Authorities to determine the case themselves. Both Lambeth and Westminster councils approved the scheme in December 2014.
Who’s paying for it?
There will be no public money from Lambeth towards the construction or upkeep of the bridge.
Some £60m towards the estimated £175m cost of the bridge was originally pledged by the Mayor of London (from Transport for London funds) and the government through HM Treasury. However, Cllr Lib Peck, Leader of Lambeth Council consistently argued against public funding for the project. In November 2015, Lambeth successfully negotiated a deal with the Garden Bridge Trust to reduce the TfL contribution to £10m. The Trust pledged to meet the shortfall by cutting costs and raising more private funds for the project.
Is everyone in favour?
No, since the Garden Bridge was first publicised in the run up to and after the planning applications were heard, there has been passionate debate for and against it. Concerns have been raised about the cost, the impact on visitor numbers, wildlife, and the access restrictions to cyclists and groups of more than eight people.
Cllr Lib Peck, Lambeth council leader, has raised concerns about the London Mayor Boris Johnson pledging £30million from Transport for London’s budget towards the cost of the proposed Garden Bridge. She has sought guarantees from the mayor that alternative private funding will be sought.
Questions have also been raised about how the bridge would affect key strategic views and identified landmarks adjoining the River Thames and whether it is the right place as there are already nine bridges spanning the two miles between Westminster and London Bridges.
Who owns the Garden Bridge land (i.e. the south landing station) known as Queen's Walk
Lambeth Council (the Council) is the freeholder and Coin Street Community Builders (Coin Street) have a 99 year lease which was granted in April 1992. The parties to the lease at that time were the London Residuary Body (LRB) - the successor body to the GLC and Coin Street. When the LRB was wound up in 1996, the Council took over many of the LRB assets located in Lambeth, including the land at Queen's Walk.
The rent is a peppercorn and Coin Street have an option to renew their lease for a further 99 years. In effect, they have long lease of 176 years. Any variation to the current lease would require landlord (i.e. the Council’s) consent.
Queens Walk lease
Lambeth Council has issued draft ‘Heads of Terms’ to Coin St Community Builders (CSCB) which, if agreed by all parties would enable CSCB to sub-let part of the land to the Garden Bridge Trust (GBT) to develop the south landing stage of the Garden Bridge at Queen’s Walk. The land is owned by Lambeth council and currently leased to CSCB for a peppercorn rent. At the end of the current lease in 77 years CSCB has an option to extend the lease for a further 99 years.
Planning permission for the bridge, subject to more than 45 conditions, was granted last year. In order for the construction of the landing stage, public toilets, disabled and other access to and from the bridge, needs to be provided. To allow this the terms of the lease held by CSCB need to be amended. Under the proposed HoT, the lease with CSCB would be amended to allow CSCB to sublease the land to the GBT. CSCB would not be permitted to sublease the land to anyone other than the GBT. Development associated solely with the landing stage of the bridge would be permitted, with strict limits and controls on such development, subject to review and planning conditions. Lambeth council has the final say.
The framework for this agreement is now in place, and negotiations are ongoing.
Assuming these are concluded to the agreement of all parties, the decision to vary the lease is one which can properly be taken by the relevant Cabinet member. Details have now been posted online in accordance with the council’s constitution, you can read the decision details here. Originally the Council was told that the interested parties would not accept a lease of less than 200 years. Subsequently it has emerged they are prepared to accept a term for the balance of the current lease, meaning a surrender and re-grant is not required.
There is no impact on the ACV whether or not there was surrender and re-grant or a variation of the lease. CSCB is a community interest group and as such regulation 13 of the Asset of Community Value (England) Regulations 2012 would have permitted the Council to dispose of the land to a community interest group with a local connection within 18 months of having received notice of disposal. The council could not force CSCB to surrender its lease, in order that the Council could grant it to a third party so CSCB’s agreement to any variation, surrender and re-grant would have been required.
The cost of the building and maintenance is to be borne by the Garden Bridge Trust and the Mayor of London has nominated TfL as guarantor for that funding. There will be no direct cost to Lambeth council.
Currently CSCB derives an income from the land through its use for events, designated retail and catering. It is assumed that once the Garden Bridge is operational, that income could be significantly increased. Lambeth council has indicated its intention to make sure that any increased income from such activity would be shared between CSCB and the local community.
Lambeth council has various roles in relation to the Garden Bridge, it is one of the two local planning authorities - the other being Westminster. Lambeth is also the landowner of Queens Walk and is the authority which granted the application for the land to be listed as an Asset of Community Value.
Q & A
1. Does this mean any development could go ahead?
No. The agreement is solely to enable the construction and sub-letting of the south landing stage for the Garden Bridge Trust as detailed in the planning application.
2. What if they wanted to expand that area for shops and cafes?
That would not be permitted under the proposed varied lease and there would have to be a new and separate planning application if there were any changes to what has already been agreed
3. What if the GBT goes bust or sells the bridge to a private owner?
Our agreement will be with CSCB. The Council will make sure that CSCB binds GBT or any subsequent sub lessee to comply with all relevant duties in CSCB’s lease.
4. What if a new Mayor or government decides to stop funding the bridge?
There is a legally binding agreement that the GLA will financially guarantee the maintenance of the bridge.
5. What if CSCB say no to the deal?
Then it is unlikely the bridge can go ahead.
6. What about the future status of the land?
Lambeth will remain the freehold owner. CSCB currently have a long lease on the land and the lease is between the council and CSCB. Should CSCB cease to exist, the lease would be come to an end subject to any rights a creditor may have granted under the lease.
Planning decisions and the lease negotiations are totally separate processes.
The land at Queen's Walk has been listed as an Asset of Community Value, does this mean the Garden Bridge is not going ahead?
An application for the land at Queen’s Walk to be listed as an Asset of Community Value was approved by Lambeth council. Planning decisions and ACV decisions are totally separate and are governed by different policies and laws.
The consideration of the land known as Queen's Walk as an asset of community value was purely on its merits as to whether it furthered the social wellbeing or social interest of the local community. The fact that the land is the proposed landing site of the Garden Bridge was immaterial and played no part in the council’s decision making process.
An Asset of Community Value (ACV) simply puts a six months stop on any sale when the owner of the land serves notice on the Council that they intend to dispose of the asset. This allows community groups to try to get funds together so that they can purchase the asset within that time. However, the owner can’t be forced to sell the asset to the community group and at the end of the six months, they can choose to sell the asset to whomever they want.
Disposals to a Community Interest Group can take place at any time within 18 months of the notice being served and do not trigger a 6 month waiting period.
In the case of the Garden Bridge, any sub-letting of the land by the owners, Coin Street to the Garden Bridge Trust would constitute a ‘relevant disposal’.
Once an asset is listed, the owner cannot then dispose of it without:
- Letting the Council know that they intend to sell the asset or grant a lease of more than 25 years
- Waiting until the end of a six week 'interim moratorium' period if the Council does not receive a request from a community interest group to be treated as a potential bidder
- Waiting until the end of a six month 'full moratorium' period if the Council receives a request from a community interest group to be treated as a potential bidder
The owner, i.e. Coin Street, will need to notify the Council if they intend to grant the sub-lease.
What happens next?
A Lambeth resident issued a legal challenge against Lambeth Council’s planning decision but that has now been resolved. We acted properly in exercising the council's functions as Local Planning Authority for the scheme and when granting planning permission for the Garden Bridge, imposed more than 45 conditions which the Garden Bridge Trust must show will be met.
There are various parties with interests in the land required to build the bridge, including the Port of London Authority, Lambeth and Westminster. The Coin Street Community Builders has a leasehold interest in the land required for the south landing.
The Garden Bridge Trust has been liaising with and will continue to liaise closely with these parties in relation to the land required to build and maintain the Garden Bridge.
On 19 May 2015 the council issued a "disposal" notice letting people know that negotiations about the future of Queen's Walk could take place if the Garden Bridge project does progress and invited people’s views.
"Disposal" is the technical and legal term for any changes to the lease arrangements which would include extending or amending the lease. We are not proposing to sell the land. Lambeth Council would still own the site even if there is a variation to the current lease.