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Expert slams Garden Bridge business case


Fresh questions over Boris Johnson’s backing of the Garden Bridge have been raised after an international expert in public procurement described the business case for the scheme as ‘seriously flawed’

Professor of business law at the University of Hull, Christopher Bovis, who has advised the Commons transport committee on European procurement, attacked read Transport for London’s (TfL) strategic outline business case, which was released by TfL after a Freedom of Information Act request.

Bovis said he was particularly concerned by the injection of £60 million of public money during the ‘live’ procurement process between Heatherwick Studio’s appointment by TfL in early 2013 and the publication of its business case in May 2014.

Bovis said of the business case: ‘The methodology is wrong and does not allow for a full range of offers and proposals. They changed the specification in terms of the financial make-up of the project. They started out with a purely privately funded model and then it became, to a large degree, publicly funded – that is a serious flaw because the ways in which you would procure these two types of project are diametrically opposite.’

Critics have claimed the business case appears to set out criteria by which nothing other than a Heatherwick-designed Garden Bridge from the South Bank to Temple could have won backing.

Jeremy Cross of campaign group  Thames Central Open Spaces said: ‘At section 2.16 they are judging five options, but of seven criteria. One is to provide a link to Temple Tube (fixing the location), another requires it to create a garden, and another that it should create a cultural icon to ‘showcase Britain’. Enough said.

‘Section 3.16 includes a table with costs and benefits of the two most comparable options (new pedestrian footbridge or garden bridge from South Bank to Temple). However, they are deliberately skewed, with costs over-estimated for the simpler (non-garden) footbridge, while the benefits were downplayed.’

Christian Wolmar, a transport journalist who is seeking the Labour candidacy for the 2016 London mayoral race, called the Garden Bridge business case ‘completely scandalous’.

He said: ‘It’s beyond dishonest. I have a lot of experience of reading business cases, and I am not yet a politician. You can see the way they have framed this business case – it is self-fulfilling. The options in it are bizarre and it is not looking at what river crossings are needed.’

Bovis also criticised TfL’s 2013 invited competition in which Heatherwick Studio beat rivals  Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield, and questioned why a full design contest had not been held.

He said: ‘It was a “photographic competition” in that you have already photographed the project and then you go through the motions … TfL’s explanation for such poor procurement on the Garden Bridge is beyond belief.’

A  TfL spokesperson said: ‘TfL has extensive experience of managing a whole range of procurement processes that reflect the broad range of infrastructure planning and delivery work that TfL is responsible for.  TfL is satisfied a robust and proper process was followed to award this contract.’


Readers' comments (11)

  • under FOI I asked TfL: 'Were TfL’s procurement regulations followed in regard to the garden bridge funding?'

    Their formal response on 4th March 2015 was:
    'There is no procurement as TfL is not purchasing works or the supply of goods or services. TfL is providing grant funding to the Garden Bridge Trust, the charitable body which will construct, own and operate the Garden Bridge.'

    I cant make this add up with what has been said above in the article.

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  • No wonder the country is in a mess! Every bod who opens his mouth or writes a thread is an "expert". From where I view this project, there are enough experts involved already. Shades of the Gatwick v. Heathrow jousting and other posturing! I suppose it's democracy, but it is also highly inefficient, delaying and financially draining. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

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  • No surprise, but what a stupid idea. Blackfriars is already a disaster in terms of restricting views but thats no excuse to make the situation even worse.

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  • So one of the seven initial criteria was that the bridge should 'showcase Britain'. The proponents of Heatherwick's bridge intend to make it in Italy. The sections would then be shipped in. Was any thought given to commissioning a British firm to do the work, which has only got this far because of a huge diversion of public money? Outside the London bubble, what will the rest of the nation make of Britain's biggest foreign prefab?

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  • I know what Scotland will make of it - it's really no more than a bare-faced scam, but then with Boris Johnson's involvement that's not altogether surprising.
    What is surprising is that some otherwise well informed and very well respected personalities in the British architectural firmament seem to have been blinded to the seamier aspects of the affair - perhaps dazzled by novelty?.

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  • Editor,
    At risk of being facetious, I would like to hear someone explain the business case for Trafalgar Square. For a putative politician like Christian, who I know and like, to attempt this argument is to miss the point.

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  • Another dreary litany from the miserablist tendency.

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  • TfL most certainly should NOT be satisfied because it was NOT a 'robust and proper process'...the whole thing is a blatant sham and Boris Johnson should resign over this.

    Osbourne, Johnson Lumley Heatherwick Lebdeov and Pearson are all mates and in it together. They want to make the river and Queens Walk a gimmicky private investment gated playpark for the ugly elite of London...with £60m of tax payers money to help them out.

    Despicable to ruin the river landscape and open city vistas with this embarrassing unethical and ugly 'design'

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  • Another dreary litany from the miserablist tendency? Maybe.
    But misery is the inequality London is trying to hide and may keep hiding behind these and other extravagant projects. If at least they were not that expensive, that would be a real display of creativity. Architects and politicians together, can you offer dignified housing and public space for the people first? Without this project London is already an exceptionally good showcase of Britain. Litanies may eventually emerge from understandable reasons.

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  • The idea of Mutual Exclusivity is a problem. If you don't build the bridge, it doesn't mean London gets the homes it needs. If that were the case I would of course argue for the homes. What we need is the same passion and commitment going into housing production that we see from the supporters of the bridge. There are too many people who want to stop things happening, and that partly explains the disgraceful shortage of affordable homes, which was entirely predictable, but ignored.

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