Work on the controversial Garden Bridge linking Temple to the South Bank could start next year after the Mayor’s deputy mayor for planning gave the scheme the final go-ahead.
Planning permission had already been granted by Westminster and Lambeth councils despite objections from some local residents and stakeholders.
Westminster’s planning consent was conditional on Transport for London, which is chaired by Mayor Boris Johnson, underwriting the £3.m annual maintenance costs in perpetuity.
However speaking at Mayor’s Question Time on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said: “I can confirm that no such agreement has been made, nor will I make any such undertaking to do so.”
On Friday his office issued the following statement: “The Garden Bridge Trust has clear plans in place to secure funding to cover all maintenance and operating costs for the bridge and the Mayor has made it clear that TfL has no intention of picking up the bill.
“TfL will work with Westminster, Lambeth, the Garden Bridge Trust and a range of other organisations to agree the most appropriate way forward. “
Announcing City Hall’s approval for the scheme, Sir Edward Lister, said: “Having reviewed this application thoroughly, I am happy for Westminster City Council and Lambeth Council to determine the applications for the Garden Bridge themselves.
“We have worked hard with both local authorities and the Garden Bridge Trust to ensure that the bridge is of the very highest standard of design while remaining fully accessible to those who work, live in and visit the city.”
Some critics are concerned the bridge will obstruct the view of St Paul’s Cathedral while others are unhappy that up to 30 trees will need to be cut down to accommodate it.
Others say the bridge will cause overcrowding on the South Bank, already one of the capital’s most popular destinations.
Designed by Thomas Heatherwick, the bridge was originally meant to be built without public funding but Mayor Johnson later ordered Transport for London to contribute £30m to the project.
A further £30m has been pledged by the UK Government with the balance of the estimated £175m costs to be raised from private donations.
Despite receiving taxpayer funding the bridge will be classed as private space the public will have no guaranteed access right to use it. Groups of more than 8 people will need to request permission to cross it together.
In addition, the bridge will be closed at night and the Garden Bridge Trust, which will own the bridge, say cycles will be banned from crossing it.
However City Hall says the scheme will support the Mayor’s policy of “making central London a more attractive and accessible place for walking” and “support economic growth and planned regeneration on both sides of the river.”
Mayor Johnson said: “The Garden Bridge will provide a fantastic new landmark for London whilst supporting regeneration and economic growth on both sides of the Thames. It will create a stunning oasis of tranquillity in the heart of our city and boost our plans to encourage walking in the city.”
Lord Davies, Chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust, claimed the bridge would “become a celebrated part of London’s landscape.”
London Assembly members have called on the Mayor to ensure the Trust receives no additional public money, even if they’re ultimately unable to raise sufficient private donations.
Green party AM Darren Johnson said: “The Mayor has failed to get good value for money by ensuring that there is both a separate cycling link, built alongside the bridge and also 24/7 public right of way.
“My fear is that any shortfall in funding for the Garden Bridge will either be met from the public purse, or from a larger number of corporate parties leading to regular bridge closures.”
John Biggs AM, Labour’s finance spokesman on the Assembly, said: “When this project was first announced it was estimated to cost £60m, at minimal cost to taxpayers. Since then the costs have risen to around £175m.
“The Mayor needs to be clear that no more taxpayer money will be ploughed into the project. If costs rise or the Garden Bridge Trust fails to raise the necessary funds the burden cannot fall on the public purse.”
Caroline Pidgeon AM, Leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group, said the Mayor had failed to answer “the fundamental question as to why he thinks allocating £30 million of Transport for London’s budget to a bridge in this location should be a far higher priority than improving pedestrian and cycling links across the Thames such as between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf.”
She added: “The Mayor of London’s office have made a decision behind closed doors at City Hall to back the planning proposal, but at some point answers to these questions will have to be given to the public.”