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’
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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.’