Council consultation row over Garden Bridge

Written by on April 14, 2016 in Council, News - 4 Comments
Artist’ impression of the proposed south landing building of the Garden Bridge

Artist’ impression of the proposed south landing building of the Garden Bridge

Three Lambeth councillors have accused Jack Hopkins, their fellow councillor and cabinet member for regeneration, business and culture, of wilfully ignoring requests to engage with local elected members during consultations on the controversial Garden Bridge.

Councillors Kevin Craig, Jennifer Mosley and Ben Kind have “called in” a decision on the bridge by Lambeth council and their objections will be heard at a meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee on 21 April. They represent Bishop’s ward where the southern end of the bridge would be.

They say they have “commissioned and reviewed analysis that indicates the overwhelming opposition to the Garden Bridge in our ward”.

The technical decision involves land owned by Lambeth and leased to Coin Street Community Builders (CSCB). The council plans to vary the terms of CSCB’s lease to allow part of the land to be used for a building at the southern end of the proposed bridge.

How the bridge came to be commissioned and how it will be paid for have been the subject of bitter accusations. Lambeth library campaigners, among others, say the money would be better spent on public services. The council says that the decision will not cost Lambeth anything.

The call-in expresses fears that Lambeth council could become liable if the Garden Bridge Trust (GBT) cannot raise enough money or if the bridge, once built, loses money.

“By prematurely confirming the heads of terms for the variation of the lease, LBL will have significantly weakened its negotiating position and potential for leverage in this respect,” say the three Bishop’s ward councillors.

The decision to allow a variation in the lease was taken by Cllr Hopkins alone. The  councillors say in their call-in that: “Such an important decision should be subject to detailed legal and democratic scrutiny and not as an unaccountable private variation of lease” between the council and CSCB.

The three say that the decision “lacks the requisite transparency” and that it is “unclear and unexplained why the decision has been delegated to the member with responsibility for jobs and growth (Cllr Hopkins’ title before cabinet responsibilities were rejigged this week), whereas this matter falls under the remit of the deputy leader, with responsibility for finance.

“We are also very concerned that it defers the next stages of negotiations, which are significant, to Lambeth officers and thereby is structured to avoid further scrutiny.”

The call-in says the bridge project is “highly politicised” and attracting significant public interest so it is critical that “all relevant decisions are undertaken with appropriate scrutiny, oversight and transparency”.

The proposed amended lease is described in the original report as “largely unaltered”. But the three councillors say this is “a wholly misleading and inaccurate summary”.

On consultation, they say: “The report presents a very misleading and confused picture in relation to the consultation process. Indeed, despite suggesting that there is no need for any consultation, the report still includes reference to that process.”

The call-in says that Cllr Hopkins “has wilfully ignored a significant number of requests by local elected members to engage during the consultation period.

“We are concerned that this is not in the public interest. Additionally, there has been

  1. a near absence of consultation with local communities by the GBT and Lambeth leadership;
  2. misrepresentation in the press of the extent of public opinion against the bridge.

They say the decision “proposes the loss of this green public open space for development with a building which serves no specific purpose in relation to the operational requirements of the bridge other than to provide an income stream” for CSCB and, apparently, Lambeth council.

The decision “sets a precedent of Lambeth signing over high value public land for development by a private trust, without a full and appropriate level of consultation and oversight by elected members.”

Lambeth council has granted planning permission for the bridge. The council says the proposed new building could only go ahead if the bridge is built and would be removed if it was not completed and that construction of the bridge and the building will not cost the council anything.

The council’s own report on the decision says it “will not incur any financial liabilities arising from the construction/maintenance of the south landing building and the surrounding area in the event of GBT failing to fulfil its obligations. A guarantee has been sought from Transport for London and the Greater London Authority to meet the obligations of the GBT for the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the bridge and therefore the south landing building. This will be legally secured.”

You can download the full call-in papers from Lambeth council’s website.

The GBT says that 80% of Lambeth’s pre-commencement planning conditions have now been approved.

The call-in will be considered at the 21 April meeting of the council’s overview and scrutiny committee at the Springfield Community and Health Centre, 110 Union Street, SW8 2SH.

About the Author

Alan Slingsby moved to Brixton just as the 1981 uprising began. His nearest pub was the Effra and nearest off licence the Frontline — long gone in an earlier wave of closures of treasured community establishments. He works out of an office in St Matthews and before that the Bon Marché. Has edited newspapers for the National Union of Students and National Union of Teachers. Now makes a living designing magazines and books and anything else people will pay him for.

4 Comments on "Council consultation row over Garden Bridge"

  1. Michael Ball April 15, 2016 at 4:00 am ·

    Lambeth Council are up to their necks in swirling filth on the Garden Bridge.

    Firstly, the land on the South Bank was created after a 10-year campaign by the local community in the 1970’s, and its creation was funded by the GLC to provide open space for the hundreds of new social housing tenants coming to Coin Street without gardens in an area deficient in open space. The land has a double lock on it to protect it as open space and prevent development on it or commercialisation. The double lock is that both Lambeth and Coin St have the ability to block the other from developing it. They are now proposing to break this lock together.

    Why? Because (secondly), they both intend to enrich themselves. We always knew Coin St had demanded that the Garden Bridge Trust build a huge and unnecessary commercial building on the only bit of grass here, with the intention of Coin St renting it out commercially to Nandos or Tescos or whoever, pocketing the profits – which is why the local community is so angry with Coin St. What we only discovered last month, after two years of stonewalling from senior officers and members, was that Lambeth was demanding a 50/50 cut of what we estimate could be a windfall income of £650k annually.

    The persistent and deliberate failure to declare this pecuniary interest was disgraceful and almost certainly illegal. Senior members and officers had been meeting with the private individuals advocating these proposals for 18 months in secret: they gave no indications, they consulted no one locally (including the ward councillors), they published no records, but they blithely helped give birth to a personal vanity project which will cost the public purse over £200m (£60m capital to build, and around £150m to maintain over the lifecycle of the bridge at £3.5m per annum), even as Lambeth intends to pocket a tidy sum.

    The first anyone outside the magic circle of schmoozers and bedazzled councillors knew about all of this was when the planning application was submitted. This wasn’t just contrary to guidance or good practise, or even just common decency, it was deliberate and systematic, and, given the persistent failure to declare their pecuniary interest, almost certainly done so for nefarious reasons.

    If you think Brockwell Park is safe from development, or Ruskin Park, or Streatham Common, or your local park, you are wrong. Despite the fact that the Council has strong planning policies against the development of open space, and is the organisation entrusted with the custodianship of land as open space on behalf of local residents, Lambeth has shown it is willing to trash its own policies and abuse its role as custodian, simply in order to make a fast buck.

    It is a miserable coincidence that the amount of money raised by this dirty little land deal is roughly equivalent to the extensive ‘Special Responsibility Allowances’ which are paid to 38 of the 59 Labour councillors on top of their basic councillor allowance. In that light, perhaps it’s little wonder there has been barely a public whimper from councillors who privately are clearly disgusted that Lambeth Labour is so wholeheartedly supporting Boris’ dirty leaving present for London.

    • Big A April 17, 2016 at 8:51 pm ·

      Nailed it. If the shitty bridge is ever built I’m fairly sure ever ‘private function’ will be disrupted.

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