London Garden Bridge builders seek Hong Kong cash

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 April, 2014, 5:37am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 April, 2014, 7:29am

The people behind a plan for a garden in the sky over the River Thames are looking to wealthy Hongkongers to help fund the scheme and leave their names on a London landmark.

Thomas Heatherwick, chief designer of the £150 million (HK$2 billion) Garden Bridge, said support from Hong Kong for the new structure would help extend the goodwill between the cities and build a metaphorical bridge between them.

"Some of the successful people of Hong Kong, whose education or family background is strongly tied to Britain, might want to do something ... that their great grandchild can walk across - the bridge," Heatherwick said from London prior to a visit to Hong Kong.

On Tuesday, Heatherwick is due to give a lecture on the bridge project at the Asia Society here on behalf of London's Central Saint Martins art school.

Based on an idea by actress and Gurkha-rights activist Joanna Lumley, the 370-metre bridge would provide an elevated walkway with gardens and shrubs to connect Temple, in central London, to the South Bank.

While famous bridges that are open to traffic, such as Waterloo, offer pedestrians what Heatherwick called a "smelly traffic jam", he believes the Garden Bridge will become a new destination and meeting place, with spectacular views of the British capital.

Heatherwick, whose past work includes the 2012 Olympic Cauldron and the British Pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, said the bridge could be London's answer to New York's High Line, an elevated public park built on an abandoned 1930s railway line through Manhattan.

"We hope the London project can be free [for the public]. It's for everyone," he said. Building it would be expensive, however.

Heatherwick said just under two-thirds of the cost had been raised so far. British media reports said the government and Transport for London had each promised to put in £30 million.

A trust has been set up to raise the cash under Mervyn Davies, a British peer, former government minister and one-time chief executive of Standard Chartered, for whom he worked in Hong Kong.

Heatherwick said fundraising was an urgent task as the work must be completed before 2018, when construction begins on the Thames Tideway Tunnel, an ambitious project intended to help prevent sewage overflowing into the Thames. When the sewer work starts, other construction projects on the Thames will be put on hold for a decade.

The bridge will also need approval from London's planning authorities.

"If we haven't raised 90 per cent of the money by this time next year, the project won't happen," Heatherwick said.

"Hong Kong and Britain have a special relationship. Individuals … might put £1 million to do a park and they could name parts of the garden, with a view towards the King's College or St Paul's Cathedral."

The Garden Bridge had been criticised as a "vanity project" but earlier this month a survey showed 88 per cent of Londoners supported the idea.