The mayor of London should cancel the Garden Bridge and accept that £46 million of public money has been lost, Margaret Hodge has advised in a damning report on the project’s procurement and value for money
The predicted cost of the Heatherwick-designed scheme – originally budgeted at £60 million – has now risen to more than £200 million, and the MP concluded in her 45-page report: ‘It is better for the taxpayer to accept the loss than to risk the additional demands if the project proceeds.’ Read the full report here
Following the AJ’s long-running investigation into the scheme’s procurement by Transport for London (TfL), the former chair of the Public Accounts Committee also concluded that the appointments of Heatherwick Studio and engineer Arup in 2013 ‘were not open, fair or competitive … and revealed systematic failures and ineffective control systems at many levels’.
Hodge said: ‘I did not seek to ask whether the concept of a garden bridge over the River Thames is a good idea. But my review has found that too many things went wrong in the development and implementation of the Garden Bridge project.
‘Value for money for the taxpayer has not been secured. It would be better for the taxpayer to accept the financial loss of cancelling the project than to risk the potential uncertain additional costs to the public purse if the project proceeds.
‘In the present climate, with continuing pressures on public spending, it is difficult to justify further public investment in the Garden Bridge.
‘I would urge the mayor not to sign any guarantees until it is confirmed that the private capital and revenue monies have been secured by the Garden Bridge Trust.’
Meanwhile, David Marks and Julia Barfield of Marks Barfield Architects have broken their silence about the tender process around the major scheme, describing it as ’inappropriate, unfair, and biased’.
’It is clear that we were just there to make up the numbers and the outcome of this tender had in reality already been pre-determined. We feel deeply embarrassed to have been used in this way by a publicly accountable body who should, frankly, know better,’ they added.
Other points made by Hodge following her inquiry – which London mayor Sadiq Khan ordered last September – include:
- Former mayor Boris Johnson refused to co-operate with the review either in person or in writing despite several requests, a decision which Hodge ‘deeply regrets’.
- The evidence suggests procurement options were ‘intentionally developed to enable Heatherwick Studio to qualify’.
- Former London mayor Johnson ‘must be held responsible’ for the fact that both the procurement of Heatherwick Studio and Arup were neither open, fair nor competitive.
- The current mayor should introduce greater transparency into the procurement process and ‘more effective checks and balances’ to ensure public money is properly spent as well as a review of employment conditions so there can be ‘no hint of a conflict of interest when contracts are let by TfL or the Greater London Authority.
- Thomas Heatherwick did co-operate with the inquiry, telling Hodge that his firm had earned £2.6 million from the Garden Bridge project by the end of November 2016 and expected to earn £2.7 million in total.
- Heatherwick was closely involved in decisions on who should serve as trustees of the Garden Bridge Trust following his appointment to design the project.
- Decisions on the Garden Bridge were driven more by electoral cycles than value for taxpayers’ money.
- The costs have escalated from an early estimate of £60 million to over £200 million today.
- The risk to the taxpayer has intensified. The original ambition to fund the Garden Bridge through private finance has been abandoned. The Garden Bridge Trust has lost two major private donors and has pledges of £69 million, with no new pledges secured since August 2016. With a public sector contribution of £60 million, that leaves a gap in capital funding of at least £70 million. Furthermore, very little progress has been made on raising money to fund the ongoing maintenance of a completed bridge.
- The Garden Bridge Trust’s finances are in a precarious state, and many outstanding risks remain unresolved.
In full: statement from Marks Barfield
’TfL had an obligation to obtain value for money for a concept the former mayor, Boris Johnson, was promoting. They chose to do this by contriving a tender process that was inappropriate, unfair, and biased.
’Now that the facts are out in the open, we want to make it clear, firstly, that had Marks Barfield been aware of Heatherwick Studios’ involvement and original idea, we would certainly not have submitted a tender. There is still honour and respect between architects and designers.
’Secondly, there are ways to ensure value for money without contriving a sham competition and wasting the time and effort of other design firms. If a tendering process is required it should be fair and transparent. Architects and designers should compete on an even platform, or a mechanism needs to be put in place to allow projects to proceed with the originators of those projects without the farce of conducting an improper tender process.
’It is clear that we were just there to make up the numbers and the outcome of this tender had in reality already been pre-determined. We feel deeply embarrassed to have been used in this way by a publicly accountable body who should, frankly, know better.
’We are not seeking, nor have we sought, nor will we accept any compensation from TfL or any other body. We genuinely hope that this is an isolated case and that lessons will be learned, although it is difficult to see how if TfL continues to be in denial.
’It is important now that robust moves are made to restore confidence in TfL as an organisation and we are grateful for mayor Khan’s initiative in commissioning this report. We hope that his appointment of a new TfL board and introduction of governance procedures will deliver public accountability.’
David Marks and Julia Barfield, Marks Barfield Architects
Mervyn Davies, chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust
’We are pleased that Dame Margaret has finally published her report after six months of uncertainty. We will be studying the report in detail and seeking a meeting with the mayor of London to discuss next steps. The trust remains as determined as ever to make the Garden Bridge happen which will bring huge benefits to London and the UK.’
Margaret Hodge MP
‘Many congratulations to The Architects’ Journal for its persistence and very thorough investigative journalism. This is journalism at its best.’
Tom Copley, Labour London Assembly Member
‘This is a thorough damnation of what has to be the worst of Boris Johnson’s vanity projects. Given today’s report quite clearly states that it would be better to cancel the project than to risk the potential uncertain additional cost to the taxpayer, this must surely be the final nail in the coffin for the Garden Bridge.’
The trust remains as determined as ever to make the Garden Bridge happen
Mervyn Davies, chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust
Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member
‘This is a totally damning report. It is a disgrace that key decisions on the Garden Bridge were driven by electoral cycles rather than any concern for value for money. The report also backs up the long-standing finding of the London Assembly that the procurement processes were not open, fair or competitive.
‘Dame Margaret Hodge is crystal clear when she states that the mayor should not sign any taxpayer-funded guarantees until it is confirmed that the private capital money to build the bridge has been secured by the Garden Bridge Trust.
‘This is the final nail in the coffin of the Garden Bridge. The mayor should put us out of our misery and pull the plug on this project.’
Tom Edwards, BBC London Transport correspondent
‘This is 40 pages of brutal, uncompromising criticism of nearly every part of the once flagship Garden Bridge project. I can’t remember reading a report so damning of a transport project. Procurement, finances, business cases, value for money, previous mayors, deputy mayors and transport officials get an absolutely withering assessment […] it will be very difficult for the project to withstand this.’
‘We welcome Dame Margaret Hodge’s independent review of the Garden Bridge project. We will review it in detail and ensure that the recommendations relevant to TfL are addressed.’
The subterfuge, spin and conduct of so many people who the public trust to conduct affairs of governance with honesty and probity while using public funds is reprehensible
Ian Ritchie of Ian Ritchie Architects
‘It has clearly become far more difficult in this new age of “fake” to grasp the essentials and thus to be able to formulate a reasoned and honest critique of complex issues.
’Yet when faced with an inherently flawed though cosmetically plausible project, few in our profession are prepared to put their heads above the parapet for fear of losing future work opportunities. Is this not the spineless behaviour that encourages corruption and presages the decline of society?
‘In 2015 I attempted a “forensic” analysis of the need for the Garden Bridge – the hype, the process, the funding and the escalating costs, long-term maintenance and the moral questions it raised.
‘Margaret Hodge has concluded, not unsurprisingly, following a thorough investigation in her well-known and respected no-nonsense manner, that the Garden Bridge is flawed financially, politically, in the conduct of its procurement and other subsequent decisions taken.
‘The cost to the taxpayer of the bridge’s costs and design fees already paid is outrageous, given that realising this project cannot – even now – proceed without finalising land, planning conditions and a huge amount of private funding.
‘The whole process, the subterfuge, spin and conduct of so many people who the public trust to conduct affairs of governance with honesty and probity, while using public funds is reprehensible. It also brings into question the behaviour of certain professionals.
’I can only hope the mayor, given the results of this review, shows wisdom and repudiates the sunk cost fallacy which he fell foul of earlier this year and finally puts an end to this project.’
Walter Menteth, architect and director of procurement lobby group Project Compass, which carried out a report on the procurement of the Garden Bridge
‘This report is excellent news after two years of hard work by an extremely good team of people concerned by democratic process and transparency. I am also delighted that Margaret Hodge concluded that there were significant failings with both procurements.’
It’s time Sadiq represented the people who elected him and started protecting their pockets from being picked any further
Jim Eyre, founding director, WilkinsonEyre
‘It’s disappointing that Boris Johnson couldn’t bring himself to speak to Margaret Hodge, because he clearly had such a critical role in it… And it’s a staggeringly large amount of money that has been spent on both on the design of it and on the project generally.’
Michael Ball, chair of Thames Central Open Spaces
‘Sadiq Khan must finally stop dithering and scrap the sinking Garden Bridge, following Dame Margaret Hodge’s damning report.
‘As mayor, Sadiq has already paid out £10 million of public money from TfL’s coffers, honouring commitments made by Boris Johnson when he was mayor pushing his pet project. TfL is due to hand over another £10 million in the next few months, and the mayor is required to underwrite the project’s £3 million annual running costs. Hodge’s report makes clear that this would only throw good money after bad.
‘Sadiq commissioned Hodge to undertake a comprehensive review of the project, and he can’t ignore its withering conclusions. It’s time Sadiq represented the people who elected him and started protecting their pockets from being picked any further by announcing his refusal to pay out any further to the project, and undertaking a root-and-branch review of the UK’s highest-spending single public authority.
‘It is depressing that Boris Johnson succumbed to soft lobbying and didn’t see the need to follow procurement law and TfL policy. But it is a scandal that the then TfL commissioner Peter Hendy was paid £650,000 a year and was personally involved in this project at its inception, yet failed in his basic duty of protecting the public purse from such pie-in-the-sky projects costing millions. Hodge reports that Hendy believed Mayoral Directions trumped all other considerations, including European and British law – and yet no Mayoral Direction was issued until all the key decisions had been taken and the project procured!‘
Will Jennings, founder of the satirical anti-Garden Bridge competition A Folly for London
’This report is a powerful indictment of every stage of the Garden Bridge - from proposal to procurement and encompassing all agents involved. Hodge has written a thorough, considered and fair report which backs up the claims of activists, the local community, experts and journalists throughout.
London deserves better, we deserve better
’The life support machine must now be switched off; however this should not be the end. All individuals and organisations responsible should be held to account, and Sadiq Khan must answer why he has strung this out for so long when he should have listened to expert advice from day one, saved a lot of public money and not damaged trust in his leadership.
’And we should learn from this that Londoners need to be engaged in the city they love. Development must be inclusive, for the betterment of society and citizens and not for a few members of the establishment, a celebrity and their developer friends. This can be an important turning point into how and what we build in London. London deserves better, we deserve better. The death of the Garden Bridge can be a turning point.’
Mark Middleton, managing partner at Grimshaw
‘The project itself is a bit ill-conceived – it’s in the wrong place, and it’s incredibly expensive. If you compare it to, say, the Millennium Bridge, it’s a fraction of that cost. I’m all for new pedestrian crossings across the river but this seemed to have a very distasteful corporate agenda to it – it was going to be closed off.
‘It’s nothing against Heatherwick, I’ve no axe to grind. It’s just a bad idea […] London has got other priorities now – it’s got other things to spend its money on.’