Objectors to the proposed Thames Garden Bridge said they will launch a legal challenge against Boris Johnson’s decision to underwrite millions of pounds of future maintenance costs
Last Thursday (4 June) the London Mayor signed a guarantee pledging to step in if income from commercial activity on the proposed £175million bridge, designed by Thomas Heatherwick, fails to cover the costs.
The agreement was been made to allay concerns raised by Lambeth and Westminster Councils, who both made a guarantee of maintenance costs a condition of their planning permissions granted late last year.
But Michael Ball, director of Westminster Community Development Group, which is opposing the project, said: ‘It would be illogical and unreasonable for Boris to underwrite it (the Garden Bridge), since the news that the public purse is going to pick up the tab will deter any further private donations – which would in turn undermine Boris’ very reason for supporting the bridge with public funding in the first place.
‘Boris has talked of providing a guarantee, but this means nothing until he provides the detail of how public funding would be triggered.’
He said the trust was now taking legal advice on launching a new legal challenge to the scheme based on Johnson’s decision to underwrite the project.
The decision to drop a proposed judicial review of the decision to grant planning permission for the bridge, and Lambeth’s agreement to pay is costs, means that WCDG would have a ‘healthy fighting fund to launch that fresh legal challenge against it if necessary’, he said.
Yet supporters of the controversial scheme claim the Mayor’s guarantee is little more than a bureaucratic box-ticking exercise. The direction signed by Johnson to approve the underwriting of the project reads: ‘Given the trust’s projected annual revenue surplus, it is the clear expectation that the guarantees…will not need to be called upon.’
A spokesperson for Johnson told AJ: ‘The reason for a having a guarantee from the GLA is to meet a planning requirement imposed by Westminster City Council. The mayor has made it clear that public money will not be used to cover maintenance costs of the bridge.’
A statement from the Garden Bridge Trust, which is behind the scheme, said: ‘The trust has worked to reduce the costs for the maintenance and operations of the bridge and to develop a robust business plan, which will deliver the funds required using a mix of income generating techniques.’
It said that the trust has already raised £67million in funding from the private sector, charitable trusts and individuals in the past 18 months.
The latest news comes just days after the London Assembly called on the Mayor to withdraw public funding for the proposed Garden Bridge and launch a full inquiry into how it was procured (see AJ 03.06.15).