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Boris Johnson defiant over Garden Bridge at City Hall hearing

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Former London mayor Boris Johnson has struggled to explain how £7 million of public money was allocated to the already troubled Garden Bridge in early 2016

During a fiery appearance at the London Assembly yesterday, which followed a summons to the former mayor by the London Assembly’s oversight committee, Johnson refused to accept any blame for the collapsed Heatherwick-designed project and its estimated £46.4 million cost to the taxpayer.

Johnson, who is now Foreign Secretary, also attacked his successor Sadiq Khan as well as the AJ’s long-running investigation into the project. 

But it was when assembly member Tom Copley turned to the decision to release £7 million to the Garden Bridge Trust in January 2016, just ahead of the trust’s signing of a construction contract with Bouygues, that Johnson appeared most uncomfortable.

Copley asked him why the funds – from Transport for London (TfL) and the Department for Transport (DfT) – had been released given the trust had not secured at least five years’ worth of funding for operations and maintenance costs – one of the necessary conditions set out in the Deed of Grant between the trust and TfL, which was chaired by the then mayor.

‘All I can do is refer you to [TfL commissioner] Mike Brown’s letter – TfL believed that the conditions of the Deed of Grant had been met,’ Johnson replied.

Copley then asked how this condition could have been met given that Johnson then oversaw the ‘watering down’ of the identical condition attached to the mayor’s proposed guarantee for the bridge’s operations and maintenance costs in April 2016. At that point, the condition was changed from the trust being able to show it had the necessary funds to merely showing it had a ‘satisfactory funding strategy in place’.

‘You asked me something I’m afraid I simply don’t have at this distance in time,’ Johnson replied before attempting to turn the conversation to later decisions made by Khan.

Copley made several more attempts to ask Johnson why the condition was altered, but Johnson said he would have to refer him to his previous answer.

Asked what he would have done differently with the Garden Bridge, Johnson’s only concession was that he had tried to deliver the Heatherwick-designed scheme in too short a timescale and was too quick to believe that Khan would support it.

Calling the Garden Bridge an ‘excellent’ project, he said it was a ‘bitter disappointment’ that it had been scrapped, laying the blame for the estimated £46.4 million bill to the taxpayer entirely at Khan’s feet and describing it as ‘money down the drain’.

Asked about the procurement and the many meetings that took place between his team and Thomas Heatherwick including the infamous trip to San Francisco ahead of TfL’s design contest, Johnson said the competitive process was conducted in a spirit of ‘complete openness’.

Johnson also claimed that reports in the AJ about the behaviour of TfL officers regarding the Garden Bridge project had ‘crossed a line’.

Challenged by the chairman of the oversight committee, Len Duvall, about whether officers should be held accountable, Johnson said he agreed with this.

But he went on: ‘The allegations of corruption, the insinuations have been really quite horrendous and they’ve been connived at in the Architects’ Journal, which has published a stream of abuse about these individuals, motivated – to the best of my knowledge – by a dislike that the Architects’ Journal has – or the journalist concerned has – of Thomas Heatherwick who is not conceived of as being a proper architect and is therefore somehow worthy of abuse.’

The AJ’s investigation into the Garden Bridge began in December 2014 and non-architect designer Heatherwick was awarded the AJ’s AJ100 Contribution to the Profession Award in June 2015.

 

  • 10 Comments

Readers' comments (10)

  • Phil Parker

    The committee failed to mention Joanna Lumley was a family friend and the garden bridge was that post pubescent zenith moment when schoolboy has the dream opportunity to impress the attractive actress.

    This would be fine and would be no different to any other schoolboy fantasy had it not cost the tax payer £49million.

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  • Given the limited time, I thought the questions from the 3 GLA members were bang. Firstly Sian Berry highlighted the fact that he used transport funds on a project that wasn't in any transport plan and had minimal transport benefit, then Tom Copley highlighted how he facilitated minimal oversight of the spending of that money through Mayoral Directions and Caroline Pigeon essentially got him to admit that towards the end he was rushing it through as he wanted it to happen and wished he had more time. All the while, politely, Len Duvall stilted his bluster and meandering and added gravitas. There are now some serious issues exposed here to do with the additional £7m applied for in January '16 and granted - I doubt that this is over yet.

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  • A mixture of bluster and 'ducking and diving' - and this character has risen to become Foreign Secretary in the British government? You couldn't make it up - Her Majesty's representative for 'Perfidious Albion'. At least he's not Prime Minister - yet.

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  • The London Assembly wasted too much time on the origin/procurement of the project when there were serious critical questions that still haven't been aired yet e.g. forensic evidence which could have nailed Boris down to what exactly was decided and when. Len had little control of the situation and let Boris waffle on incessantly and as for Caroline Pidgeon's question of "how would you have done things differently?"! What a waste of valuable questioning time! And voluntarily giving more oxygen to one of the vilest machiavellian politicians of our time to blast the current hot and cold mayor of

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  • Congratulations to the AJ & to Will Hurst for blowing the whistle on this corrupt vanity project.

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  • £46.4 million. That would employ over 2000 labourers for a year. Or just over 200 labourers for 10 years. (If they worked a forty hour week ..roughly 2000 hours per year @ £10 per hour.) That is a lot of money. The question is where did the money go because 200 labourers could build the foundations of a small city in a ten year period.(or even a large city). Think about that and how much £46.4 million really is. Where did it all go?

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  • Phil Parker

    I agree with JS - the London Assembly committee should have been much better prepared and not wasted time on pointless preambles and general questions - disappointing. But aren’t most politicians serial disappointers?

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  • Phil Parker

    Hear hear, Kate

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  • Congratulations to the AJ !
    Keep up this sterling work !
    We must expose all crooks, pursue them, and bring them to face justice.

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  • if the GLA had gone in all guns blazing he would have frozen up and they would have looked overly combative. It looks like their strategy was to make him at ease - give him enough rope. Its a long game and in my view it worked as they have essentially exposed his weakness over the reasons for serious decision making around the funding and had him admit both his responsibility for it and that he was trying to get it over the line. Its the detail of how he tried that is important to any further investigations.

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