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Business plan for Garden Bridge 'fundamentally flawed'

Garden bridge  winter

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.’


Readers' comments (5)

  • Anybody surprised...? It seems all dreadfully consistent, on all levels...

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  • There is no substitute for rigorous supervision. (Unless you are promoting a vanity project)

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  • I must admit to being more than surprised - at the revelation that the Garden Bridge trust's business plan is, as yet, still only a draft.
    That doesn't seem to have stopped them from having already sunk an awful lot of public (rather than their own) money into the project - and I wonder whether the new Mayor has been unduly influenced by some senior TfL staff who seem to have been all too eager to dance to the old Mayor's tune and are now fighting a rearguard action to avoid being sucked into the mire?
    Mr Khan surely needs to think very hard indeed about the risks of continuing to bail out a sinking ship that wasn't of his making.

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  • It would seem, reading in the Evening Standard today that the GBT have asked for more assistance from the DFT. Which is bizarre as it has little transport benefit. Looks like this storey will soon draw to its end.

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  • For all those who work professionally the lack of due diligence on this vain wasteful saga is a precedent which not only blights all Londoners, but diminishes our country and our profession. To ensure confidence can be restored this project must be halted and an independent inquiry established with a remit to uncover the full facts surrounding the apparent systemic distortions by TfL and others .
    London’s procurement must also be reviewed and reformed to ensure better practices and opportunities are fairly delivered, on a level playing field, with improved access, transparently, and on a best value quality agenda, with design commissioning processes instigated only after a business case can be made, projects are aligned to the London Plan and in consultation with all relevant stakeholders and authorities.
    £60m cheques through the back door are not acceptable.

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