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Former TfL boss points finger at Johnson over Garden Bridge contest

Boris and peter hendy

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.’


Readers' comments (4)

  • The active role of La Dedring in the 'fix' is no surprise, given her quite extraordinarily mendacious performance in front of Margaret Hodge - what on earth do Arup's professional staff think of their new 'colleague', I wonder?
    The comments of the two 'fall guys' in the mock competition are no surprise, either - the use of confidentiality clauses in a clear attempt to conceal crookery should be ringing warning bells at all levels of government, but when the lead 'crook' is a cabinet minister what chance is there of that?
    And perhaps the most dismal aspect of this grubby saga is the confirmation that an architect would think twice before criticising a client with the clout of TfL - any architect worth the name knows how insidious dry rot is once it gets a hold, and how difficult it can be to eradicate without major surgery to a building. Likewise, surely, the effect of crooked patronage - and bent politicians and senior civil servants - if that culture is seen to thrive.

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  • 3 further points I would like to make, the first is simple, the second and third are not.

    1 - The seven principles of public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. How many of these has our potential PM shown during this debacle?

    2 - TfL have published the funding agreement between them and the GBT online. Pages 39 & 40 make interesting reading. TfL were given authority over a total of £60m (including a grant from the DfT authorised by George Osborne directly as Chancellor). There were conditions to be met at various stages prior to a fixed amount of money being handed over. The largest single payment was handed over once the GBT signed the construction contract - £16,500,000. It is now known that the GBT were not in a good financial position at this time and the effect of that was for them to ask for further money from TfL and Dft during the mayoral election Purdah period which Johnson did give them. To boot, the GBT signed a construction contract that committed them (us as it turned out through underwriting by the DfT) to cancellation costs of potentially over £7,000,000. And they did this at a time when they had no legal rights in place to start work or even access the land. I am happy to be proven wrong here but all this can be read from public information. Interestingly they also signed this contract at a time when Sadiq Kahn (the then front runner to become the next mayor) had publically said he would scrap the bridge. Conjecture maybe but it appears that the GBT have calculated the risk to the projects progression is greater if they don't sign the contract early than the risk of the cancellation costs (which would not be paid by them anyway). At best this shows a lack of care for public money, at worst the application to TfL for the £16.5m payment was potentially deliberately fraudulent (i.e not all the conditions of the funding agreement had been met) and TfL under instruction from Boris Johnson potentially released the money without proper oversight or the correct checks and balances.

    3 - TfL have also issued a list of public funding payments to the GBT. TfL have granted a total of £23.92m whereas from the original £30 dfT grant £13.45m has been given. £20m of the TfL's £30m is reported in the same document as a loan (50 year repayment). This was Sadiq Kahns and Lib Pecks success in achieving slightly better value for money for the public and was well publicised in 2015 etc. However, in Dame Hodges interview with TfL's internal solicitors they admit that there the loan account is 'empty'. How is this so. The maths don't add up - even if we are kind and say the first £10m is free, then the TfL loan account should read -£13.92m. That's nearly £14m of public money that should have been loaned rather than granted but apparently has not. Why is this important - well because the trustees (or their insurers) would still be responsible for the repayment of that loan back to the public purse. Either there is some slight of hand accountancy going on here or the terms of the loan were so overly friendly that the funds didn't become a loan until completion or similar - either way, again, its more evidence that behind this whole shoddy affair someone is being very fast and loose with vast amounts of public transport money.

    now I'm done and have nothing left to say on the matter - I'm off to build a real bridge....

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  • Chris my reading of the transcripts aligns. A clear issue has been that under the public contracts regulations & EU directives there is no public interest challenge for the procurements if participants themselves cant or dont challenge. In the future there clearly should be, as the degree of current 'capture' of professionals under eg frameworks, is both pressuring of professionalism and independence, and no longer tenable.
    The new information released in the transcripts however now reveals other grounds for bringing account. Who or for that matter when this happens is I think now the big issue. The avoidance of reputational damage appears to have been upper most for both TfL & GLA to date, and so they have failed to act adequately. Hence other channels need bringing forward.
    As Robert states, democratic institutions fail if law & regulations are not upheld and dissuasive action is not forthcoming. This appears after all to be no less than contract rigging, misappripriation and fraudulent public expenditure of eye watering amounts.
    Regarding the necessary action the question must then be who moves it, how & when? Is it time to take it through eg Public prosecution. I doubt given present UK politics this would have any chance of success. Thoughts anyone?

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  • What a tangled web they have woven?! Strangle the last politician with the intestines of the last hopeless bureaucrat? They can't even mint the new pound coin or look after foreign policy? Fat Boris is his Eton jogging pants! And as for Osborne; screwing the housing market and the Referendum with his mate Dave, then accepting a very fat salary "editing" the Standard! More Eton mess? Bless Harry and his Invictus Games.

    The garden bridge has queered the pitch for those of us attempting to erect a ped and cycle bridge between Brentford and Kew. Build and running cost: £10m tops. And TfL is the Public Sector body threatening to close down Uber for not carrying out CRB checks, prompted by the black cab guys. Makes me glad we closed down all those top heavy architects departments with copies of Concrete Quarterly and Tower Block pattern books full of asbestos, one means of escape and no insulation. Capiche? And again it's the poor immigrants who really pay for it. We are all to blame?

    This is still a good place to live and work. We just need to stay cool, control the incompetent Fat Cats and make sure the money goes where it's needed? Do what you are best at?

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