Let’s recycle a bridge

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Let us be entirely non-party political and talk about London’s Garden Bridge, the exciting £175m proposal to build a beautiful tree and shrub shrouded pedestrian crossing across the Thames between the City and the West End.

It’s green, pedestrian friendly and the brainchild of national treasure Joanna Lumley and top designer Thomas Heatherwick, so what is not to like? Quite a lot, it seems. As it moves through planning towards financing and construction, the project has stirred up hostility alongside great enthusiasm.

Why? Well, costs of course. £60m of the finance is due to come from the cash-strapped and deficit-burdened public sector. The garden bridge will also be a big intrusion into one of the capital’s most fabulous views, looking across to St Paul’s Cathedral and the City of London from Waterloo Bridge. And, sited where it is, it will be so popular that there will need to be a system for restricting the number of people on it at busy times – with queues forming at either end. It could end up being more of a tourist attraction than a useful pedestrian crossing.

So here’s a much better, cheaper and genuinely greener idea. A few hundred yards east of this proposed Garden Bridge is an abandoned old structure which could do the job instead.

Next to Blackfriars Railway Bridge is a line of massive, disused bridge piers (or supports) straddling the river. These used to carry the old London, Chatham and Dover Railway bridge, but this was dismantled 30 years ago. A few of these piers have since been used to support the recent, sleek extension of Blackfriars railway station across the Thames, but there are still enough of them left to carry a broad, 300 metre long green pedestrian crossing along with lots of soil and vegetation.

Since half of this bridge already exists, it would be much cheaper to build than an entirely new garden crossing. This green Blackfriars bridge could be a powerful, permanent statement of the environmental and economic benefits of recycling and reuse if it incorporated reclaimed steel, timber and other materials into the new parts of the structure.

It would be sited in a part of central London devoid of parks and green open space. It would not block any cherished views. It would be used by masses of commuting office workers as well as tourists, but not enough to demand restrictions on entry (there’s an alternative pedestrian crossing nearby at Blackfriars road bridge).

Think of it as a bold, beautiful exercise in urban re-creation, rather like New York’s High Line, the much loved and admired linear park that was created recently using a redundant section of elevated railway line on Manhattan. Out with the new, in with the old – let’s just do it.

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