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Garden Bridge: London Assembly orders TfL to hand over letters

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The London Assembly has issued a summons demanding Transport for London (TfL) hand over recent correspondence with the Garden Bridge Trust, signalling its growing impatience with the continued secrecy surrounding the disastrously expensive project

Today’s summons (30 November) from the assembly’s oversight committee requires TfL – which is chaired by London mayor Sadiq Khan – to supply it with two letters the transport body was sent last year by Garden Bridge Trust chair Mervyn Davies, a peer and former minister.

The Heatherwick-designed crossing was scrapped in August 2017 before construction began but is still expected to cost the taxpayer £43 million.

The trust is attempting to wind up as a charity but this has been prevented by behind-the-scenes wrangling over the final chunk of public money earmarked for it: a £5.1 million payment set out in an underwriting agreement provided by the Department for Transport (DfT) but ultimately to be paid by TfL.

The trust repeatedly requested the money during the second half of 2018, but TfL has been urged by politicians to protect the taxpayer and withhold the funds after a QC said it was ‘likely’ that the Garden Bridge trustees breached their legal duties to act with reasonable skill and care.

Speaking today, Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley, who sits on the oversight committee and chairs a new working group examining the scandal, accused TfL of failing to learn the lessons in terms of transparency and accountability.

‘It is jaw-dropping that TfL have not learnt that when it comes to this project, transparency is paramount,’ he said. ‘We expect full co-operation with our continued investigations into the failed Garden Bridge project and will use all of the powers at our disposal to get it.

‘Hiding behind the veil of “commercially sensitive information” won’t wash – when documents can be redacted, if necessary, before we place them in the public domain.’

In addition to the two letters, the summons also covers any notes, texts or social media messages between the parties.

In December, the AJ made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for ‘all written correspondence’ between the trust and a number of key officers at TfL, but letters sent by Davies in July and September were withheld on the grounds the publication could jeopardise commercial interests or contravene rules on personal data.

In its response to the AJ, TfL also argued only emails and letters fell into the category of ‘written correspondence’ and said the publication would have to make a fresh FOI request for notes, texts and social media messages.

The London Assembly has become increasingly bullish in issuing summons to TfL in recent months. The chair of its Transport Committee Caroline Pidgeon issued a summons to deputy mayor for transport Heidi Alexander in December requiring documents and witnesses to appear relating to London’s massively-delayed Crossrail project.

A TfL spokesperson said: ’We have always supported the scrutiny of the Garden Bridge undertaken by the London Assembly and others such as the review conducted by Dame Margaret Hodge and will respond to this request as soon as possible.’

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Puzzling that TfL chooses an obstructive rather than cooperative path - surely risking suspicions that this organisation might have rather more skeletons in the cupboard than the shenanigans involved in the Garden Bridge affair.
    TfL has the reputation created by the good work of London Transport to protect, and is a misplaced sense of loyalty getting in the way of basic honesty? or is it a case of people who've 'got something' on each other?
    It doesn't help that the ex-Mayor's performance in front of the London Assembly might have encouraged some to 'brazen it out' in the hope that the problem will go away.
    It shouldn't, given the massive sums of public money disbursed by TfL on both capital works and day-to-day operations; I wonder whether their audits would bear close inspection, given the recent revelations of failings in that profession.
    And with two, rather than one, ex-government minister closely involved in 'pushing' the Garden Bridge project, what's the risk of some colossal fudge that ends up with TfL seen to possess about as much integrity as Boris Johnson?

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