EXCLUSIVE: Transport for London’s former boss has admitted the organisation knew Boris Johnson wanted a Garden Bridge by Thomas Heatherwick prior to holding its disputed competition for the design
The AJ’s investigation into the bridge – which began in late 2014 – found multiple evidence that the February 2013 contest won by Heatherwick Studio was rigged, but this has been consistently denied by client TfL and by Johnson himself.
However, a different story is told by former TfL commissioner Peter Hendy in his newly published interview with Margaret Hodge, the Labour grandee tasked with investigating the Garden Bridge’s procurement and value for money.
In the interview, Hendy, who is now chair of Network Rail, denied the contest was rigged when asked directly about this by Hodge.
However, he went on to tell her: ‘Was it pretty clear that what the mayor wanted to do was to ask Thomas Heatherwick to build a Garden Bridge? Yes, it was. It was pretty clear, actually.
‘Were the people around him utterly persistent in driving this thing forward? Yes, they were actually … they were all over this to get it done.’
Hendy also told Hodge that Johnson would ring up every night ‘wobbling home on his bike saying “where’s the bloody Garden Bridge?”’ and suggested he tried to remind the former mayor of his duty to the public.
‘I’m pretty sure I remember saying to him at one point that “you can’t just treat this as though it’s your own money. We’ve got to have some element of process in here”.’
Hendy also said that pressure from the mayor’s office came via deputy mayor for transport Isabel Dedring, who was ‘on our backs every day’. Hodge replied: ‘She said it was entirely you and not her’, prompting Hendy to say: ‘Well, that’s fascinating’.
The former TfL commissioner also confirmed that he took his orders from the mayor and from the TfL board but that he saw the mayor ‘more often’ than the board.
‘You come in in the morning and you think “Actually, providing what I am doing is legal …” you can tell people to get on and do it. I think that’s one of the strengths of the way in which [London government is] done,’ Hendy said.
Discussing TfL’s £30 million grant to the Garden Bridge, he added: ‘Do I defend the right of the mayor to allocate some money like that to a project? Well of course I do, because I was employed by him. I’ve got no view then on the value for money, because that’s what he told us to do.’
Meanwhile, in their interviews with Hodge, the two other practices competing for the bridge commission, Marks Barfield and WilkinsonEyre, both said they sensed something suspect about TfL’s competition from the outset.
Jim Eyre told Margaret Hodge he thought the ‘terrific speed’ of the competition was ‘unusual’.
Meanwhile alarm bells began ringing at Marks Barfield when the practice was pushed by a ‘persistent’ Richard de Cani at TfL to enter. Both firms also had to sign up to confidentially clauses.
Marks Barfield became increasingly uncomfortable as a series of revelations emerged which, as David Marks puts it, showed that the competition ‘uncontrovertibly … didn’t follow due process’.
But even though their names were being bandied around by Johnson and Hendy’s successor as TfL commissioner, Mike Brown, to show the contest was fair and open, neither felt able to speak out.
Marks said: ‘TfL is a very important client for us and you don’t go around criticising your clients in public.’ He added that he later had a ‘very odd conversation’ with the TfL internal auditors, in which they implied he should not talk to the press.
Julia Barfield said it had felt ‘a bit like bullying’, adding: ‘People were saying “Oh it [the tender process] must have been fair because [the architects] haven’t complained.’