The business plan used to justify the building of Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge is fundamentally flawed and raises questions about Transport for London’s (TfL) oversight of the project, according to a new report.
Dan Anderson of tourist attraction consultant Fourth Street has produced a scathing study of the financial projections used by London mayor Sadiq Khan to explain his continuing support for the project.
A month ago, Khan said that an analysis of the plan led him to conclude that it was in taxpayers’ interest for the bridge to be completed, partly underwritten by the Greater London Authority.
However Anderson - a critic of the scheme who was not commissioned to write the 44 page study - has concluded that the ‘obviously weak’ plan suggests taxpayers may have to bail out the bridge once built.
The report said: ‘After detailed analysis of the operations and maintenance business plan it is this author’s considered opinion that the basic business model is flawed and the Business Plan targets are optimistic at best, but more likely unachievable.’
He said that the plan would be ‘unlikely to pass muster for even a small grant from one of the traditional Lottery funds’.
The report continued: ‘One has to wonder, therefore, if Transport for London is providing sufficiently robust oversight of the project.’
The Garden Bridge Trust’s business model relies on voluntary donations making up 70 per cent of projected income for the bridge.
But Anderson said that this is much higher than the 10 per cent to 30 per cent share received by other cultural attractions such as the Tate, V&A and Science Museum.
In addition, Anderson argued that the trust has wrongly linked the bridge’s fundraising model to that of museums and galleries. This is despite the fact that the bridge is billed primarily as a transport link – almost two-thirds of users are forecast to be commuters unlikely to give money at voluntary contactless donation points.
’Simply making this key adjustment reduces projected income by some £200,000 per annum,’ the consultant said.
The report also slams the trust for failing to consider any potential ‘downside scenarios’.
It said: ‘This is an extraordinary oversight given that the Operating and Management Business Plan is built on a foundation of charitable giving and corporate sponsorship that is itself highly susceptible to optimism bias.’
Anderson told the Guardian that he had never seen such an ‘obviously weak’ business plan for an attraction in his 20 years in the industry.
’Most such projects normally needed lottery funding and thus had their business plans scrutinised,’ he said. ’This one just seems to have sailed through with very little challenge.’
A Garden Bridge Trust spokesperson did not respond to specific criticisms, but said that the business plan had always been a draft.
It is now being updated in line with Khan’s request to reduce the amount of time the bridge will be closed for private fundraising events, the spokesperson said.
A statement from the trust said: ‘The revised plan will be subject to scrutiny by Lambeth and Westminster councils and the mayor’s office. The report forms part of the planning conditions requiring approval before construction can start.
’The trust fundamentally believes that the Garden Bridge is for Londoners and for everyone and that therefore it would not be right to charge people to cross the Bridge.’