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Garden Bridge critics ‘shut out’ by London mayor

London Mayor Sadiq Khan
  • 1 Comment

Only supporters of the Heatherwick-designed project have been granted access to Sadiq Khan’s team, the AJ can reveal

He’s regularly photographed at showbiz events and has met boyband The Vamps twice since being elected last May.

But London mayor Sadiq Khan has not found time to hold a single meeting to discuss the Garden Bridge with anyone outside his administration, Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made by the AJ have revealed.

In the face of sustained controversy over the £185 million project and repeated requests for an audience with Garden Bridge critics – ranging from the RIBA to local campaign group Thames Central Open Spaces (TCOS) – Khan is understood to have delegated responsibility for dealing with the scheme to his chief of staff David Bellamy.

But all four of Bellamy’s meetings about the bridge since taking up his position have been with the Garden Bridge Trust or with parties involved in the project, such as Lambeth Council, the FOIs have revealed (see document).

The revelation sparked anger across the political spectrum, with critics accusing Khan of engaging only with powerful supporters of the bridge despite his campaign promise to be a ‘mayor for all Londoners’.

Liberal Democrat London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, a long-time critic of the bridge and its procurement history, accused Khan of adopting ’exactly the same’ position as his predecessor Boris Johnson in refusing to listen to those with serious concerns about the project.

‘These stretch from TCOS through to Inner London Ramblers, and from the president of the RIBA through to a growing number of councillors from both Lambeth and Westminster,’ Pidgeon said. ‘You can’t claim to be the mayor for all Londoners and then ensure your office door is only open to those who back the Garden Bridge.’

If you’re well-connected and slick you can access Sadiq’s closest advisers

Former Tory transport minister and candidate for mayor of London, Steven Norris, called the FOI findings ‘worrying’.

‘Sadiq Khan has of course asked Margaret Hodge to look at the value for money of the scheme, but it is surely only fair that its many opponents have the chance to make their case to the mayor’s chief of staff if not to the mayor himself,’ Norris said.

TCOS member Michael Ball said it was notable that Khan is willing to meet with ‘developers and money men’ but would not properly scrutinise what he described as the waste of ‘tens of millions of pounds’ worth of taxpayers’ money.

‘The message is clear,’ Ball said. ‘If you’re well-connected and slick you can access Sadiq’s closest advisers and persuade him to commit yet more of our money on this sinking project. But if you represent ordinary Londoners - 70 per cent of whom don’t want this wretched bridge - you can wait until the twelfth of never to meet him.

‘Even his GLA Labour Party colleagues are refused access, and are forced to pass resolutions, supported by all parties, protecting the public purse from this vanity project.’

It is important that the mayor hears… not just the propaganda

Labour London Assembly Tom Copley did not criticise Khan directly but urged him to meet with campaigners and the local community ‘at the earliest opportunity’.

He said: ‘It is important that the mayor hears first-hand the views of those who oppose the Garden Bridge, not just the propaganda spewed out by the glossy PR machine at the Garden Bridge Trust.’

Last August, the AJ revealed that the newly-elected Khan had turned down separate meeting requests with leading architects Richard Rogers, Terry Farrell and Jane Duncan, by citing his busy schedule.

A spokesperson for the mayor of London said: ‘The mayor’s position is widely on the record. He is supportive of the project but is clear that no more of Londoners’ taxes for which he is responsible will go into the Garden Bridge.

‘The Garden Bridge Trust has had a funding commitment from TfL established by the previous mayor and therefore it is right that his team monitors progress with the project.’

Garden bridge revised

Garden bridge revised

Comment

Will Jennings, anti-Garden Bridge campaigner and founder of A Folly for London

’In his publication “A City For All Londoners” last October, Sadiq stated, “I will work with communities and civil society groups across London to encourage active participation in community and civic life.” The Garden Bridge has helped instigate some of the most determined, deeply-researched and active citizens who would welcome the opportunity to work with Sadiq, but the mayor has simply turned his back.’

Alexandra Runswick of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency

’The Garden Bridge is a contentious project with strong views on both sides. Fundamentally however, this project is going to be funded by the public purse and the mayor therefore has a duty to be fully transparent about how he is making decisions, and the public must be able to hold him account for these decisions. The mayor and his team must be willing to meet with both sides, otherwise they are left open to the charge that special interests are being granted privileged access. This gives the impression they are subject to undue influence, which undermines democratic processes and trust in government.

’Decision-making in local government must be open and transparent. Unfortunately we have a very weak statutory lobbying register in place which does not cover the mayor’s office. We therefore know very little about who is seeking to influence the mayor, and about what policy areas or projects. The mayor and his staff must be open to hearing a full range of views on which they can deliberate and make a fully informed decision that is influenced by a wide range of stakeholders, and not just those who are given privileged access to the mayor’s staff.’ 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Calls to mind the classic problem that the ostrich has - bury your head in the sand and you risk presenting your posterior as a very obvious target.

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