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Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge sucked into election fray

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Thomas Heatherwick’s controversial Garden Bridge project has been dragged into to the General Election debate after shadow chancellor Ed Balls called for a review of central-government’s contribution to its £175m price tag.

Balls said that if Labour was in power after next week’s General Election, the £30m of Treasury funding committed to the project would be re-examined to ensure the scheme was good value for money.

‘The kind of numbers that are being spoken about at the moment are very big indeed,’ he told the Evening Standard.

Chancellor George Osborne said Balls’ intervention was ‘really disappointing’ and saluted the bridge’s potential to increase tourism in the capital.

He said: ‘Here we have an iconic piece of British design by one of the greatest designers in the world … which I think will attract more revenue to London as more tourists come to London … and we have Ed Balls pulling the plug on it.’

Osborne added that Balls’ comments signalled other large infrastructure projects could be at risk under a future Labour government.

A Garden Bridge Trust spokesman said: ‘We fully understand that with the contribution of public money toward the Garden Bridge there needs to be a clear demonstration that these funds are well spent.

‘When it is built, the bridge will be free and open to all. More than £125m has already been pledged so far, this includes donations from individuals, charitable foundations and companies. This will all go toward securing benefits for London and the wider economy.’

Next month a judicial review hearing will be heard at the High Court into whether Lambeth Council was right to ignore potential funding gaps when approving the contentious link over The Thames (see AJ 22.04.15).

Previous story (AJ 25.03.2015)

Boris refuses independent audit of Garden Bridge procurement

London mayor likens Heatherwick to Michelangelo as he is forced to respond to AJ’s FOI revelations

Boris Johnson was today forced to publicly defend the procurement of the £175million Garden Bridge following FOI revelations made by the Architects’ Journal (see AJ 06.03.15).

At a rowdy Mayor’s Question Time at the London Assembly, Johnson was told by the Assembly’s Liberal Democrat leader Caroline Pidgeon  that he had serious questions to answer on how winning firm Heatherwick Studio – a firm which has designed one bridge - had scored more on ‘design experience’ than Wilkinson Eyre, which has designed more than 25 including a Stirling prize winner.

But the mayor denied the contest had been pre-judged, accused her of a ‘Taliban-like hatred of beauty’ and refused to agree to her demand for a ‘full and independent audit of the process’ undertaken by client Transport for London (TfL).

AJ has published a number of stories about the procurement of the controversial project including scoring details from the 2013 TfL contest between Wilkinson Eyre, Marks Barfield and Heatherwick Studio which were described as ‘extraordinary’ by Walter Menteth, an architect and former chairman of the RIBA procurement reform group.

Johnson was asked whether he was satisfied with 2013 procurement of the bridge designer by TfL, which is overseen by the mayor.

He replied: ‘The answer to that is emphatically yes…Transport for London has a lot of experience in managing competition processes.

‘The process was entirely appropriate. The Architects’ Journal has sought details under Freedom of Information and I think you have those.’

Pidgeon highlighted the fact that Heatherwick had scored higher for design experience than Wilkinson Eyre and asked Johnson if he was ‘100 per cent satisfied’ that the process in selecting a designer had been appropriate and fair.

It’s depressing you persist in this Taliban-like hatred of beauty

The mayor replied: ‘Yes…Michelangelo probably never built a Duomo before he did the Sistine Chapel; it’s a ludicrous argument. There were different considerations applied [by TfL] and I think most impartial punters who look at the [Heatherwick] design think it’s wonderful.

‘It’s depressing that you persist in this Taliban-like hatred of beauty.’

Pidgeon then raised Joanna Lumley’s handwritten 2010 lobbying letter to Johnson and her comments that she had known him since he was four years’ old and that he was ‘amenable’ to her.

She said he had been lobbied by a ‘family friend’, adding: ‘With £60million of public money going into this scheme you have significant questions to answer.’

However, Johnson disagreed with her call for an independent audit and said that Heatherwick Studio was a world-beating firm which had designed the Olympic Cauldron and the British pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo.

He added: ‘It seems to me there’s been complete transparency’.

The mayor was also questioned by Labour member John Biggs on the agreement made by the Greater London Authority (GLA) to underwrite the £3.5million annual maintenance fee for the bridge in addition to capital funding of £30million.

Johnson said that the £30million would only be released when the GLA was satisfied that the Garden Bridge Trust had a viable and long-term plan for paying the maintenance costs itself.


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