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Garden Bridge: crowdfunded bid to recoup wasted millions fails

Garden bridge revised

A crowdfunded campaign seeking to recover some of the £43 million of public money frittered away on the scrapped Garden Bridge has been abandoned following detailed legal advice

Just over £5,000 was raised through crowdjustice.com so that a range of legal avenues for reclaiming public money could be explored.

The campaign was launched in August by writer and campaigner Will Jennings after pro bono legal advice suggested there might be a case for bringing a judicial review of the Charity Commission, the regulator overseeing the arms-length charity which oversaw the project, the Garden Bridge Trust.

Lawyers also initially advised Jennings that there was a strong case ‘to take forward legal action with an ultimate aim of holding individuals or overseeing bodies accountable for negligence, with a view to having some share of the public funding returned’.

The Garden Bridge Trust, which was established during Boris Johnson’s second term as London mayor to deliver the Heatherwick Studio-designed bridge, was ultimately responsible for the bulk of the £53 million spent on the scheme, while Transport for London as well as the Charity Commission oversaw it.

But the crowdfunded legal bid has today (3 January) been shelved, after its appointed QC, Jason Coppel, said he did not believe there was a path to reclaiming money against any of the parties involved.

Coppel explored four separate legal routes which might be pursued:

  • Proceedings against the trustees of the Garden Bridge Trust, by a member of the public who wanted the bridge completed
  • A judicial review of the Charity Comission’s decision to conclude its investigation of the Garden Bridge Trust
  • A judicial review of Transport for London’s decision to release the final tranche of £5.3 million funding for the project
  • A private prosecution of senior TfL officials for misconduct in public office.

An earlier opinion from Coppel suggested it was ‘likely’ that the trustees – who include Garden Bridge champion Joanna Lumley and former chief government construction adviser Paul Morrell – breached their legal duties to act with reasonable skill and care, ‘in particular in relation to the conclusion of the construction contract with Bouygues’.

Building work on the Garden Bridge never began and the construction contract ended up costing about half of the total public money lost on the project – £21.4 million.

But, after consideration, Coppel advised that none of the above four routes was likely to be successful in the courts and said he could not see any other avenues which were worth pursuing.

Jennings, also known for his satirical anti-Garden Bridge competition A Folly for London, confirmed with ‘deep regret’ that the latest legal advice marked the likely ‘end of any possible legal action against any actors or bodies related to the Garden Bridge Trust’.

He added: ‘I want to offer my heartfelt thanks for your support […] your generosity and concern for accountability regarding the Garden Bridge is hugely appreciated.’

The Garden Bridge Trust is currently being wound up by liquidator PwC.


Readers' comments (13)

  • Instead of wasting time and money on this litigious nonsense, why not build the thing?

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  • But I would hope that we are still on a path to bring to justice those that stood behind that corrupt process, crass outcome, and the waste of public money.

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  • When the electorate outside London has foolishly just elected Johnson maybe he will find a way of reviving his mad scheme with our money. Is that what PJS is advocating?

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  • Yeah, why not throw another £150m at this unnecessary folly? Never mind the blocked views of St Paul's! Never mind the 7 million additional gawping tourists on this most overheated public space in London! Never mind the over-engineered design, the huge unsustainable mass of concrete with a copper coating! Never mind the £3m annual running costs - I'm sure the good voters of Blyth and other assorted Northern constituencies which voted Boris would be glad to pick up the tab on this Londonista extravaganza...

    It makes me realize how far we've come: Boris was defeated in 2015/16 by rational argument and the increasing evidence that this was an over-expensive bauble which had been smuggled passed quality control and value-for-money analysis. This couldn't happen now: Boris would just repeat ad nauseum "Just build it" and the people would rush to the polling booths to acclaim his decisive wisdom.

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  • Sadiq Khan scrapped the bridge having supported it during his election campaign, which Boris Johnson did not fight. We have now developed a can’t do culture which has already killed one great bridge idea and threatens others. Another triumph for some of the above miserablists.

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  • 'Can't do culture'? - I see it as more a 'won't do' attitude to something borne of a spiffing idea to provide an outdoor party space for the select few (in effect) at very, very, considerable public expense.
    This involved:
    A - the Mayor of London - Boris - pretending that it was a very important addition to the city's public transport infrastructure (when not closed for partying)
    B - various consultants and contractors being appointed by public or charitable bodies on the 'old chums' system (in effect)
    C - the Chancellor of the Exchequer - George - enthusiastically waiving substantial tax revenue at a time when he was slashing public expenditure in the interests of austerity to recover from a massive financial scandal.
    D - at least one senior member of the garden bridge 'charity' throwing their weight around in an attempt to head off genuine and entirely justified criticism
    E - Boris leading a grubby parade of senior civil servants in artfully dodging responsibility for their parts in this sorry story.
    Mr Finch, isn't it time that you woke up and smelled the stink, instead of repeatedly (and increasingly insultingly) calling critics 'miserablists'?

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  • Paul did you write Boris' fatuous election slogan "Get Brexit done" for him?

    If opposing this makes me a miserabilist, supporting it makes you a fatuousist.

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  • BTW Paul you really should get your facts right. Both Boris and Sadiq promised not to commit another penny from the public purse over and above the £60m capital promised. What killed the Garbage Bridge was the need for a guarantee of £3m per year to cover the running costs: Sadiq refused to provide this guarantee, as promised in his election campaign.

    Boris was of course ready to break his pledge, and desperately tried to get the guarantees signed before he left office, but his most senior officer refused to sign them off because conditions had not been met (simple things like they didn't have the land or the money).

    It was in fact the internal incoherence of the Garbage Bridge and false claims of its proponents which stopped it progressing, not Sadiq. But don't let that get in the way of you consistently repeating your mantra that Sadiq cancelled it and that opponents were miserablists. After all, a similar approach to truth and dialogue has served Johnson and Trump well.

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  • It’s also a bit willingly naive to suggest that Khan ‘supported it during his election campaign’.

    In fact, Khan’s first public statement on the Garden Bridge was to call it a ‘white elephant’ and support the Leader of Lambeth Council when she temporarily wavered and called for its cancellation.

    He was then clobbered for three days straight in the Evening Standard — which was a relentless cheerleader for the Bridge. It must be difficult to win a London election with its leading free newspaper calling you a miserable killjoy who hates flowers. (As if all the subtle insinuations that he was a terrorist weren’t bad enough).

    So he found an artful way to look like he was supporting it. Then, in office, he played a very canny game of looking like he was supportive, while simply letting the project fail under the weight of its own contradictions:

    1. He insisted on the publication of all internal TFL documents on the project, which allowed opponents to run riot.

    2. He insisted on fewer closures for private hire, when the business plan clearly required more (a lot more) to stand any chance of being viable.

    3. He stayed true to his pledge of not releasing any further funds.

    4. He initiated the Hodge review which turned out even more damning of the project than expected and gave him a basis to withdraw the offer of a financial guarantee.

    And that was the ballgame.

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  • The Garden Bridge was about 3 years too late to join the list of completed vanity projects. It would have been the epitome of the post 2012 Olympic glow, for better or for worse. The dedicated transport funding spent and the political fallout from its demise still today taints other projects, even those with a proven transport and environmental benefit. It would seem that Sadiq Kahn as mayor will not support river crossings at all where they are needed (with the exception of a £1bn road tunnel) whereas Boris Johnson was seemingly gung ho about his pet projects. Perhaps we need to consider taking infrastructure spending away from the mayors portfolio and into a non political transport planning department. Decisions should be based on provable benefits to London as a whole. The mayor can have a separate power over special projects but clearly, in the past 3 terms, both mayors have failed to deliver a single river crossing. I personally have had more success than either of them in progressing such a public project despite having spent no public funds whatsoever. In the case of the Cremorne bridge planning is granted, piles are in the ground and Wandsworth Council have nearly 2/3rds of the funding raised. its taken nearly 9 years to get to this point and the current mayor has confirmed that he will not assign a single penny. His decision is not based on cost benefit ratio or health and environmental benefits, or air quality improvements - his decision is based purely on the fact that the bridge is west of tower bridge - his decision is political and based on how people will vote and his calculation must be that some people in east London will not vote for him if he helps build a bridge in west London. Those same people are suffering from poor air quality, are at risk from increased climate change. If the decision to contribute to this public infrastructure was anything but political it would have been completed in 2018. Sadiq Kahn needs to change his mind and be a mayor for all London or I expect he will be replaced this year with another mayor.

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