Jubilee Gardens on the South Bank will be fenced off this week to allow work to start on an ambitious scheme to transform the riverside park in time for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations next year.
After years of legal dispute and uncertainty about funding, Frosts Landscape Construction will start work on the scheme to create a new green landscape with 70 new trees and flowerbeds to replace the existing flat expanse of lawn.
The new-look park will be "a magnet for people and oasis for the soul," promises Adriaan Geuze, director of West 8 Landscape Architects, the Dutch firm which was selected to redesign the gardens six years ago.
Completion of the new Jubilee Gardens, which forms part of the Mayor of London's Great Outdoors programme, is scheduled for mid-May 2012, in time for both the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games.
"All those represented in the trust, neighbouring landowners, local business and residents' organisations, have worked for many years for this day – we are looking forward to taking responsibility for the gardens," says Ted Inman, chair of the Jubilee Gardens Trust which will take on the management of the gardens when work is complete.
Kate Hoey MP said: "I am delighted that the works are to begin. It has taken far too long and there have been very many hurdles to climb but thanks to the dedication of all involved, the support of the Mayor and the willingness of Government to support the Parliamentary process needed, we now will have a wonderful tribute for the Queen on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee."
The legal impasse was unlocked by the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt who has agreed to provide an indemnity, estimated at £2 million, to cover the cost of reinstating the gardens should Shirayama Shokusan – owners of County Hall – choose to exercise their right to build an underground car park underneath Jubilee Gardens.
The Department of Culture, Media & Sport says that the risk of the indemnity being called upon is low as there is currently no intention to build such a car park and the likelihood of obtaining planning permission is low.
The site was at the centre of the Festival of Britain in 1951 with its Dome of Discovery. It was laid out as a garden in 1977 in celebration of Queen's Silver Jubilee. Since then it has had a chequered history, including a period as a work site for the construction of the Jubilee line extension.
"This is a really exciting moment for the borough and for London, because this project will make Jubilee Gardens one of London's truly great green spaces, and a major new cultural centre to be enjoyed not just by Lambeth residents, but by visitors from across the world," says Cllr Steve Reed, leader of Lambeth Council.