The chair of the GLA Oversight Committee has told London mayor Sadiq Khan he must act over the ‘fiasco’ of the Garden Bridge and has pointed the finger at Transport for London’s former MD of planning Richard de Cani (pictured)
In a strongly-worded letter to Khan sent on Wednesday (9 May), Len Duvall, a senior Labour London Assembly member, said it appeared the procurement process had been ‘deliberately’ distorted and that Richard de Cani had serious questions to answer.
Duvall’s committee has been investigating the Garden Bridge since early 2015 and recently summoned former mayor Boris Johnson to give evidence on the scrapped scheme.
His letter, which copied in TfL’s external auditor Ernst & Young for its consideration, said that de Cani, TfL’s former MD of planning and now Europe Middle East and Africa head of planning at Garden Bridge lead consultant Arup, may also have been ‘overly involved in amending the internal audit report on the process before publication, with a clear conflict of interest’.
It also noted that he had been directly involved in releasing funding to the Garden Bridge Trust in January 2016, a decision Duvall questioned and said Ernst & Young should also consider.
In his seven-page letter, Duvall warned the mayor that he and the London Assembly had a wider responsibility to act on the lessons of the Garden Bridge ‘fiasco’ in order to show the public that the GLA is an open, fair and accountable body.
He also severely criticised the actions of the Garden Bridge Trust and Garden Bridge designer Thomas Heatherwick.
Following the AJ’s revelation that Heatherwick was a founding member of the trust and head-hunted its chair and deputy chair, Duvall wrote: ‘The designer hired by TfL to advise on the Garden Bridge project had become, in effect, the managing director of the organisation tasked with completing it. The consultant had become his own client.’
He continued: ‘It is difficult to imagine that the incorporation of the trust had any other purpose than to centralise control of the project in the hands of the favoured consultancy and remove it from scrutiny – either by TfL or any other part of the GLA.’
Duvall said the relationships between the GLA and external bodies such as the trust should be examined. He also called for scrutiny over the system of mayoral directions. He suggested that the Garden Bridge procurement had demonstrated that such directions ‘clearly place some strain on internal procedures and put the principles of good corporate governance at risk’.
The oversight committee chair said that the ‘sorry affair’ of the Garden Bridge showed that TfL had acted ‘entirely as the agent of a mayoral whim’ and suggested it had never even examined the business case for the £200 million project.
He concluded: ‘I believe that the London Assembly and the mayor, as partners in the governance of London, have lessons to learn from the Garden Bridge fiasco, and responsibilities to act.’
The AJ has been investigating the Garden Bridge project since December 2014 and has passed all its key findings to the oversight committee.
Responding to the news, Richard de Cani told the AJ: ‘I contributed fully to the Margaret Hodge Review into the Garden Bridge project including my role in the procurement process. This is set out in the transcript of my discussion with Hodge and follow-on correspondence I submitted.
‘I’ve always been clear on the part I played in this process alongside other officers at TfL and am very happy to answer any further questions on this from the London Assembly.’
He added: ‘In terms of the internal audit, I participated fully in this internal audit alongside many others in TfL, but ultimately the owner of the audit report was the TfL director of audit. It is for TfL to respond to specific questions on how this audit was undertaken. Of course I am happy to participate in any further review of this.
‘[There was] a further audit initiated by the new mayor and carried out by Ernst & Young on behalf of the new TfL Board in late 2016.
‘In relation to the point about release of funding payments to the Garden Bridge Trust, [TfL boss] Mike Brown has already explained the process that TfL went through in considering these payments which involved a number of people at TfL including myself, the commissioner, the director of finance and others.’
A spokesperson for Heatherwick Studio added: ’We deny any insinuation that our relationship with the Garden Bridge Trust wasn’t above board. The Garden Bridge Chair and Trustees were all high calibre independent figures.
’Thomas Heatherwick had no power to appoint anyone’
’They were unambiguous from the beginning that they held all decision making power. Thomas Heatherwick was not a trustee or director; he didn’t take part in board decisions; and of course he had no power to appoint anyone.
’The Board gave Thomas the wholly honorary badge of ‘Founding Member’ in recognition for his advocacy of the garden bridge idea, and all of this was done in line with legal guidance from the Trust’s advisors.’
A Transport for London spokesperson said: ’We are grateful for the work the Oversight Committee has undertaken alongside a number of internal and external reviews. We have taken a series of actions in response which were set out in a paper to our Board in July published on our website.
’We remain clear that any suggestion that Richard de Cani was in any way improperly involved in this project is completely unfounded.’
The Garden Bridge Trust declined to comment.