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Are Boris Johnson’s Garden Bridge claims true or false?

Boris johnson

The former London mayor was grilled by the London Assembly last week over the Garden Bridge fiasco. Will Hurst examines the veracity of his key claims

The Garden Bridge ‘had secured every relevant planning permission’. 

FALSE Not only was the Garden Bridge Trust never able to strike a deal with Coin Street Community Builders, the leaseholder of the bridge’s southern landing point in Lambeth, but its planning permissions from Lambeth and Westminster councils were dependent on the mayor’s maintenance guarantee, which was never finalised. 

The project was rushed. Johnson heavily implied this when he said: ‘If we’d had our time again, we would have started it well before the Olympics, done the planning and procurement at a decent pace and … had a lot more time to deliver it.’ 

TRUE, BUT NEEDS CONTEXT Johnson was looking for ‘legacy projects’ in his first term but didn’t pick up on the Garden Bridge until Joanna Lumley wrote to him to pitch the idea in May 2012, just after his second election victory. Given how controversial the project became, it was always going to be a major challenge to begin construction before Johnson left office in 2016. 

The procurement process was conducted in a spirit of ‘complete openness’. 

FALSE Notwithstanding the AJ’s many revelations about pre-contest lobbying, scoring and procedural irregularities and the fact that Thomas Heatherwick advised TfL on which procurement route to use, Johnson is out of step here with all expert opinion including TfL’s own audit committee and its external auditor Ernst & Young (EY).

Current mayor Sadiq Khan ‘blew hot and cold’ on the Garden Bridge

TRUE In withdrawing his backing from the Garden Bridge last April, Khan went full circle from being a Garden Bridge opponent while campaigning for election to being a supporter for almost a year in office and then an opponent once again following publication of the Hodge report.

The loss of close to £50 million of taxpayers’ money on the Garden Bridge is Khan’s fault because he cancelled it. 

FALSE While Khan would have saved money by cancelling the project on his first day in office, he never committed any ‘new’ money to the project and it was Johnson who presided over the allocation of a total of £60 million to the scheme. Critics would also cite the ‘sunk cost fallacy’ in defending Khan’s decision to scrap the Garden Bridge despite the money already spent on it; in other words the need to avoid throwing good money after bad.


Readers' comments (5)

  • 'Boris the brand' doesn't bear close examination in the context of the garden bridge, and if his integrity is so threadbare here it surely casts doubt on his suitability to be entrusted with any public office.

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  • The London Assembly session with Boris Johnson also showed how lies -- when doggedly stuck to and mutually reinforced -- can so easily come to resemble some sort of truth.

    The only AM that really put Johnson on the ropes was Tom Copley, who pushed and pushed on TFL/GLA's handling of some key conditions that allowed the Trust to prematurely sign a £100 million construction contract.

    To get out of the corner he was in, Johnson kept quoting from Mike Brown's evasive letter to the London Assembly which suggested (wrongly) that the Trust had satisfied all its funding conditions. But when Brown was previously pressed on this issue by Margaret Hodge, he conceded that the Trust should have been stopped from signing the contract, but he was under intense pressure from the Mayor's office to drive it forward: "Well, the Mayor is my boss, whoever the Mayor is, being honest."

    So we are just going around in circles. Brown points to Boris; Boris points to Brown.

    And everyone gets away with it.

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  • Phil Parker

    Johnson’s ‘performance’ at the GLA last week was cringeworthy: all puff and bluff and no substance. It’s clear this has been his modus operandi throughout his career. His shortcomings have never been more exposed.

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  • The two key facts that have always put me off the project are simple and mathematically provable:
    1 - The transport benefit of the proposal was minimal and the amount of dedicated transport funding granted was grossly disproportionate to this very small benefit.
    2 - The proposal was hugely environmentally damaging and not 'green' or sustainable in any way by any recognised measure.
    Many millions of trees could have been planted and other pedestrian bridges completed for less than has been wasted here.

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  • Congratulations to Will Hurst for never having let the bone be pulled out of his jaws and thrown away.

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