Grant Woodward: London's Garden Bridge exposes North-South divide

An artist's impression of the £175m Garden Bridge planned a stretch of the Thames. Image: ArupAn artist's impression of the £175m Garden Bridge planned a stretch of the Thames. Image: Arup
An artist's impression of the £175m Garden Bridge planned a stretch of the Thames. Image: Arup
Dreamed up by Joanna Lumley and backed by Boris Johnson, the capital's latest vanity project is in stark contrast to Yorkshire's cultural belt-tightening.

IN Leeds – the city hoping to be European Capital of Culture in 2023, remember – opening hours at museums, galleries and other visitor attractions have been cut and the equivalent of 23 full-time jobs slashed in a bid to save £500,000.

Down in London, £60m of public money is about to be frittered away on something called the Garden Bridge.

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What’s a Garden Bridge, I hear you ask. Well it’s basically a footbridge with shrubs on. Not that the part of the capital it’s earmarked for actually needs a new bridge, with or without vegetation. In fact, many of the locals are just as baffled by it as the rest of us.

But it was the idea of arch-luvvy Joanna Lumley, you see. She thought it would make a pretty tribute to Princess Diana. Oh, and did I mention she’s a close friend of London mayor Boris Johnson? When asked whether it had been a hard sell, the Absolutely Fabulous actress said: “I’ve known Boris since he was four, so he was largely quite amenable.”

And that’s how it seems to work 170 miles down the M1. You have an idea, however monumentally stupid and wasteful, pitch it to someone in power who happens to be a close personal friend and hey presto, you get the tens of millions of pounds needed to fund it.

Never mind that the cash being pumped into this vanity project would keep every hard-pressed museum in Yorkshire going for decades, because who cares about the plebs up North anyway?

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This bone-chilling contempt runs right through the decision to transfer a valuable photography collection from West Yorkshire to London too.

Culture Minister John Whittingdale this week ruled out any intervention in the shifting of 270,000 historic images from the Media Museum over in Bradford. Good to know the bloke in charge of spreading cultural enlightenment to every part of the country is fighting our corner, eh?

And he showed exactly what he thought of the Media Museum – set up specifically as a national museum in 1983 in an attempt to move collections beyond the capital – by referring to it as a “satellite”.

West Yorkshire artist David Hockney has dubbed it an act of ‘cultural vandalism’. I disagree. It’s more like cultural pillaging.

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Ok, so its repercussions are not on the same tragic scale, but in terms of wilful abandonment this government’s treatment of the North is akin to Imelda Marcos snapping up designer shoes as millions of Filipinos languished in poverty. Or the Ceaucescus building their fifteenth gold-filled palace while the rest of Romania considered eating a banana a luxury.

The Northern Powerhouse is now officially a joke. This week it was revealed that 97 per cent of the civil servants supposedly tasked with delivering it are based in London.

But this shouldn’t come as a a surprise. When Sir Michael Heseltine – a man who showed how to regenerate the North in the 1980s – produced a brilliant report setting out the road to another regional renaissance it was largely ignored. When cheap Chinese imports cost thousands of steel industry jobs, the government refused to bail out manufacturers in the North but are only too happy to prop up the scandal-hit London-based banking sector.

And not content with pulling thousands of government jobs out of Yorkshire, as they recently announced they plan to, they’re now coming for the region’s cultural treasures.

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Of all the lies we’ve been fed over the years, the Northern Powerhouse has to be the biggest. A whopper of unparalleled proportions. Far from rebalancing the economy away from the South East and rebuilding the North, this government is actively giving people less opportunity to work here, less reason to live here and less incentive to so much as pay us a visit.