Accompanying the decision to cravenly give £5m to the Garden Bridge Trust (to pay off those "philanthropists" who had given this unicorn project wings by investing in it, but were now threatening to sue the GBT if they didn't get their millions back!) TfL dumped 500 pages of information, in the hope, presumably, of obscuring everything by a wilderness of mirrors.
Could TfL have witheld this £5m because the GBT had behaved recklessly in signing a £100m construction contract for a bridge without having the land to build it on, the funds to build it, or an implementable planning permission? This was all done in a hurry in spring 2016 because Boris was about to go and they wanted to tie the hands of his successor.
Buried in the papers is the revelation that the legal advice TfL received was no, TfL couldn't withold payment... because TfL had overseen/approved the GBT signing the construction contract at the time - a decision taken by Mike Brown, TfL Commissioner, on the basis of a greenlighting report by Richard De Cani, who was about to join Arup, which stood to make £8m and more out of the project... Why hadn't De Cani been put on gardening leave with this very clear conflict of interest? Mike Brown declared confidence in De Cani, and the rest is history, and BACs payments.
Whatever happened to Mike Brown? Well, he remained pugnaciously bullish about the Bullshit Bridge until Sadiq finally pulled the plug. But he still remains Commissioner at TfL, responsible for a £1bn hole in the TfL budget, because of... another project whose costs have spiralled out of control.
Why exactly is this man paid £438,000? Why on earth does Sadiq continue to have confidence in him?
How about holding some of these people personally liable for this mess? We could start with Boris. None of this would have happened but for his systemic abuse of his Mayorality - the case for charging him with malfeasance in public office grows.
And of course he could wipe out the GBT debt at a stroke by donating just six months of the fees he gets for his Telegraph column!
Historic England? Those jokers who supported the Garden Bridge (without even seeing the relevant CGIs at the time)? Who are currently supporting towers to dwarf the gorgeous 1935 London Fire Brigade HQ further along the river at Albert Embankment? Micky Mouse wears a Historic England watch.
Meanwhile, the RFH is about to be dwarfed by 7 towers being erected on the Shell site, the tallest 36 storeys (450ft), which, when completed will require some sort of flag of surrender on the RFH just to remind everybody it is there...
Lambeth Council got nothing from that development for the Southbank Centre in terms of s106 of CIL. At least the SBC squeezed £11m out of the Shell developers by doing a deal on the Hungerford car park, on the other side of the railway, as a long-awaited extension of Jubilee Gardens.
The SBC's problems stem from its origins, created in the malicious bonfire of London govt instigated by Thatcher, a shorn off rump of the GLC's flagship arts centre, with a completely insufficient grant. This is the world's biggest arts centre, being run on a shoestring, while anything north of £250m is being pumped into Rattle's vanity project in the City.
Why? It has surely proved it's value for money. It's £70m refurb of the RFH in 2007 was excellent and on time and on budget; it helped set up a local trust to re-landscape Jubilee Gardens on 2012, which is now - blade for blade - the most visited public park in the UK. It sunk the £11m from the Hungerford car park into refurbishing the Hayward Gallery and QEH, but shamefully was not given enough to refurb the outside of these tremendous buildings. For the moment the stalactites remain, along with the graffiti and skateboarders, who in their infinite wisdom (sic) helped see off the Fielden Clegg Bradley scheme (which would have helped solve the SBC's revenue shortfall).
And over the past decade, despite it's lack of revenue to sort out its buildings, along with the concerts the Southbank Centre has provided everything from opened up grassed rooftops and riverside sandpits to markets and festivals and beanotown - making a real people's palace of adventure.
I mourn the Southbank Centre's desperation in proposing this rooftop bar (although I note that some years ago the NT got away with developing a more discrete one on its downstream roof terrace, temporary, but still there). What is needed now is a very serious campaign - supported by all those aspic lovers - to get the People's Palace and its environs properly funded.
The history of this 'loan' was that Lib Peck (having been foolishly suckered in by Lumley and Heatherwick personally lobbying her in Jan 2013, before any detail was understood) found herself under intense pressure from thousands of angry residents in Waterloo and across Lambeth asking why a Labour administration was supporting this huckster's folly? So in Sept 2015 she did what her senior officers should have done in Jan 2013, and used Lambeth Council's powers as landowner to block the whole project. Senior TfL officers reacted extremely aggressively with barely veiled financial threats to Lambeth... and cooked up the 'loan' fudge with a fearful and cornered Peck, and with Sadiq claiming some credit for the deal at the time (although Peck was obviously a bit miffed about that, especially as much of Lambeth Labour were Tessa supporters: Labour had yet to determine their candidate for the coming Mayoral election).
So the ‘loan’ claim was very much a fudge for Peck to hide behind. It’s odd that Sadiq sought to align himself with it given the coming storm, about which he was clearly warned. But in my view Sadiq then played well the very difficult hand left him by his predecessor the huckster, and the huckster’s officers.
The anti-Bridge campaign gave Sadiq all the information about the financial and political mess of this project 6 months before his election. He was told that underwriting the maintenance – a requirement of the planning permission – could ultimately cost the public purse £100m or more, and there would likely be significant funding gaps for construction. He could have – and with hindsight should have – announced during his campaign that he would not spend any more public money on underwriting the running costs. But The Standard was 200% behind the GB, and they were the most significant voice in determining the outcome of the Mayoral election, so it is understandable that he decided not to pick a fight with them over this folly. Alternatively, he could have commissioned a Hodge-like review on his first day in office, rather than wait 6 months. But that would have again put him on a collision course with The Standard. By waiting 6 months, which in reality cost little additional public money (since most of what was lost had already been committed by the huckster), he allowed it to be slowly hoist by its own hubristic petard, as the inability of the cavalier Garden Bridge Trust to raise anywhere near the necessary funds became ever more evident.
Sadiq’s desire to take some of the credit for negotiating the ‘loan’ is probably the biggest stain on his copybook. Peck on the other hand mis-stepped all the way, led on by her own senior officer determined to get that Heatherwick feather in her cap. TfL's senior officers (and Mike Brown is still there) revealed themselves as overpaid glorified yes men, incapable of even acting as doorkeepers.
And the huckster? Well, we all take the blame for his venal existence, as, ironically, he now shamelessly burns down the European bridge in order to further his march to the top.
In this one vignette De Cani and TfL display all the disregard for the public and our money of this entire shambles. We pay them huge wages (£600k to Hendy at the time) to manage and improve London’s transport while protecting the public purse, and their first job should be to bat away the outlandish and self-regarding projects ocassionally thrown at them by very interested individuals.
But TfL was overseen by an elected huckster who had inverted that relationship and saw the Mayorality as his personal stepping stone to the Premiership, using it to promote exorbitantly expensive pet projects which he hoped would promote him.
It was the overpaid senior officer’s duty to minimise the damage of this huckster, just as anonymous aides in the White House are reportedly doing at this moment with Trump. Instead they simply fell in with the huckster, getting overpaid to waste public money on baubles like the Garden Bridge – some of them even flouncing off to work for the purveyors of this outlandish and self-regarding bauble.
Despite thousands of years of history to learn from and all the advantages modernity brings, when it comes to administration we haven’t really progressed beyond the Romans.