Visitors to the garden bridge in London will be tracked by their mobile phone signals and supervised by staff with powers to take peopleâs names and addresses and confiscate and destroy banned items, including kites and musical instruments, according to a planning document.
The lengthy document (pdf) submitted as part of the planning process for the bridge, which will be part-financed by at least £40m of public money, said the trust behind the scheme hoped to âmaximise the opportunity provided by the status of the bridge as private landâ by imposing rules to âestablish expectations for behaviour and conductâ.
If it goes ahead, peopleâs progress across the structure would be tracked by monitors detecting the Wi-Fi signals from their phones, which show up the deviceâs Mac address, or unique identifying code. The Garden Bridge Trust says it will not store any of this data and is only tracking phones to count numbers and prevent overcrowding.
Caroline Pidgeon, the Liberal Democrat leader in the London assembly, who has campaigned against the Thomas Heatherwick-designed project, said she feared the bridge was following âa worrying trend of the privatisation of public places, where the rights of private owners trump those of ordinary peopleâ.
The trust hopes to start work on the £175m bridge in the new year. It is planned to run from Temple on the north side of the Thames to the South Bank and is intended to have 270 trees and thousands of other plants.
The scheme was conceived by Joanna Lumley and is funded mainly from private sources, with £30m given by George Osborne from Treasury funds and £10m coming from Transport for London (TfL) after the contribution was cut from £30m previously. It has the strong support of Londonâs mayor, Boris Johnson.
The bridge rules, of which 30 are listed, include a prohibition on any exercise that is not jogging, playing a musical instrument, taking part in a âgathering of any kindâ, giving a speech or address, scattering ashes, releasing a balloon and flying a kite.
They would be enforced by visitor hosts, who would be qualified under the governmentâs community safety accreditation scheme (CSAS). Under this, police can grant powers to civilians involved in crowd control so they can issue fines for offences such as littering, and can require suspected wrongdoers to give their name and address.
The planning document confirms that visitor hosts could impose fixed penalty notices and order anyone breaking the bridge rules to give their personal details. If the infraction involves a banned item, the host âmay seize and dispose of that property in line with CSAS enforcement powersâ, it says.
An âenhancedâ CCTV system would monitor visitors for lawbreaking or prohibited activities, the document adds.
The bridge trust said the proposed planning conditions would not amount to the structure becoming an overly controlled and regulated place, insisting the visitor hosts are ânot police officersâ. It said that while the visitor hosts would theoretically have the power to seize any banned items, in practice this would only happen with things such as alcohol.
Michael Ball, of Thames Central Open Spaces, which opposes the project, said the trustâs attitude appeared to be that âitâs their space and theyâre going to guard it. The very essence of what open space is about is that itâs got a freedom to it, you can wander around and work out what youâre doing. Itâs unstructured. Many gardens have a bit of structure, but to be this rigidly structured is bizarre. It doesnât sound like an experience anyoneâs going to enjoy.â
The planning document stresses that the security measures are aimed primarily at crime and antisocial behaviour, and notes that staff would be expected to make full use of their CSAS powers to respond to protests or demonstrations, which are banned on the bridge.
The amount of public funds earmarked for the bridge almost led to the plans being derailed. In September Lambeth pulled out of negotiations in protest at the planned £30m contribution from TfL. The decision was reversed this week after the council said the sum had been cut to £10m. However, it later emerged that the remaining £20m will be given in the form of a public loan, repayable over 50 years.
The inner London branch of the Ramblers has also spoken out against the scheme. Phil Marson, the chair of the group, said he was worried by the enforcement powers. âAs a private person, I donât understand how representatives of private organisations can be given these police-like powers on what should be a public space and is being paid for out of public funds,â he said.
The Garden Bridge Trust said the planning documents detailed theoretical maximum powers that were extremely unlikely to be used, For example, bag searches or âwandâ scans of peopleâs clothing could be used, but only, for example, if a VIP was visiting the bridge.
A spokeswoman said the bridge was intended to be âa private place operating as a public spaceâ. She said: âWe want people to use the bridge safely, and have a good experience as they cross it. Weâre not setting out to restrict people or spoil their fun.â