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Boris Johnson summoned by City Hall over Garden Bridge debacle

Boris Johnson

The London Assembly has issued a summons to the capital’s former mayor Boris Johnson to answer questions on the Garden Bridge

The Assembly’s oversight committee recently relaunched its inquiries into the failed Heatherwick-designed project and Labour member of the committee Tom Copley confirmed its latest move on Twitter this morning.

‘Under the Greater London Authority Act we can compel him to attend as a former Mayor of London,’ Copley wrote.

The summons represents the first time the Assembly has ever used such a legal instrument on a former London mayor and it is a criminal act to fail to attend in response to such a summons without a reasonable excuse. It states that he should appear at 2pm on Thursday February 22 although adds that an alternative date may be found if Johnson is on a foreign trip or has another ‘avoidable and significant’ commitment at that time.

Chair of the oversight committee Len Duvall said: ’When [MP] Margaret Hodge appeared before us and explained that Boris Johnson did not participate in her review of the Garden Bridge Project, we realised that an important part of the story was not being made public.  

’Dame Margaret did not have the power to formally request the former Mayor to give evidence, however the Assembly does have that statutory power. £37 million of transport finance was allocated to a project which seemed to bypass proper appraisal, procurement procedures were not followed and the promised money from the Garden Bridge Trust did not materialise - leaving the tax payer to pick up the bill. 

’So I think it’s only right that Boris gives us his side of the story. I know that Londoners are still very interested to know how the whole project got so far down the track, before the plug was pulled.’

The Assembly issued an earlier summons concerning the Garden Bridge when the Conservative-led budget and performance committee demanded Sadiq Khan’s chief of staff David Bellamy release the transcripts of the interviews Hodge conducted during her inquiry into the £200m scheme.

Johnson – who was made Foreign Secretary by Prime Minister Theresa May in July 2016 – was the only individual out of dozens approached to give evidence to Hodge who refused to do so.

In April, the veteran Labour MP and former chair of the Public Accounts Committee published a series of devastating conclusions on the project’s procurement and value for money and in August it was confirmed that the Garden Bridge was being scrapped and the Garden Bridge Trust would be wound up.

While it is headed by a Labour chair, the oversight committee like other Assembly committees is a cross-party group of politicians independent of mayor Sadiq Khan.

However, a spokesperson for Johnson attacked Khan in response to the summons and called Johnson ‘illustrious’.

In comments reported by the Evening Standard, the spokesperson said: ’Instead of improving the lives for ordinary Londoners, Sadiq Khan and his team have wasted 18 months filing a series of pointless reports on his illustrious predecessor simply to fill column inches and distract from his own lack of vision and delivery.

’Many Londoners are now rightly starting to question what he is doing to tackle the real issues in the capital – building more family homes, investing in transport and tackling rising crime rates.

’It’s no surprise that Khan’s team aims to fill the void by calling on the previous Mayor to give evidence on the Garden Bridge – a subject Labour members have questioned him on multiple times when he was still mayor.

’In Sadiq Khan London is trapped with a selfie mayor using his position to grandstand on issues of the past when he should be delivering a positive vision for the greatest city on earth.’

Last week, the AJ revealed how Thomas Heatherwick had a key role in founding the Garden Bridge Trust and personally head-hunted the organisation’s chair and deputy chair.

Heatherwick – whose practice is estimated to have earned £2.7 million on the publicly funded scheme – had repeatedly denied being a member of or a part of the Trust in interviews and politicians including Kate Hoey MP claimed  Heatherwick’s dual roles as part of the client organisation and a paid consultant created a clear conflict-of-interest.

In a separate development, Copley has also written to Mike Brown, the commissioner of Transport for London (TfL) calling on him to obtain a complete set of minutes from Garden Bridge Trust board meetings.

Given the spending of tens of millions of pounds worth of public money, TfL was supposed to attend all such board meetings and keep records of these.

However, it failed to do so, something Copley called ’totally unacceptable’ in his letter to Brown.

The letter also drew attention to the powers TfL has to inspect and take copies of all Trust records of decisions and expenditure under the Deed of Grant signed between the two organisations in 2015.

Copley wrote: ’Londoners deserve clarity and transparency, and where considerable public money has been spent it is right that this information is brought to the London Assembly to properly scrutinse.’

The Trust is understood to be in the final stages of winding up and in recent days has deleted its website along with its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.


Readers' comments (4)

  • Boris might be compelled to appear, but can he be compelled to be coherent? Humorous incoherence is the magic trick he has consistently used on a de-educated and gullible public.

    If this were a court of law (which is where he should in fact be answerable) the prosecuting barrister would lay bare the incoherence and the judge would concur and guide the jury; but without such structures he uses the relativists defence - it's his judgement against mine, take your pick, there is no 'right' judgement.

    His chief officers should have been playing the role of testing his nonsense. But Commissioners Peter Hendy and Mike Brown never realised that they were hired to provide realism to Boris' flights of fancy, instead believing that they were paid £500k+ to be Boris' footstool and chief lackey.

    And Hendy and Brown blame Boris, of course - they claim he instructed them (although, in fact, no instruction was issued by Boris until after the procurement shenanigans and the project launched). Boris claims the project went through TfL's rigorous hoops, but in fact bypassed these hoops as officers rigged the process.

    Here's hoping the all-party team of the excellent Len Duvall, Caroline Pidgeon, Tom Copley, Sian Berry, Peter Whittle and Andrew Boff finally shoot the fox.

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  • Hurrah, let’s hope he’s called to account so lessons can be learned and nothing like this ever happens again.

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  • Everything that Michael said is spot on.

    Johnson has been in that chair before and -- with a couple of notable exceptions -- the Assembly has mostly let him get away with lie after lie after lie. Here's hoping that the Foreign Secretary is genuinely held to account over his part in this fiasco and that it doesn't degenerate into another grandstanding episode of "the Boris Show".

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  • Utterly shameful that a such a character should be elevated to the position of Foreign Secretary - and it beggars belief that he could be a contender for leading the country.

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