A crowdfunding appeal has been launched as part of an audacious legal bid to recover part of the £43 million of public money wasted on Boris Johnson’s aborted Garden Bridge
The appeal, which is now live on crowdjustice.com, an online crowdfunding platform specifically designed for legal action, complains that 80 per cent of the £53 million spent on the former London mayor’s £200 million ‘vanity project’ comes from the taxpayer but that those responsible ‘have never been held to account’.
The webpage states: ‘We believe that they should be, and that it is not right that the full cost of such a badly mismanaged and ill-advised project should be borne by taxpayers … This crowd funding will seek to reclaim as much money as possible for the taxpayer and serve as a stark warning to politicians and their officials who act irresponsibly with our money to pursue such profligate, celebrity-backed vanity projects of dubious public benefit.’
The appeal has been set up by the writer and campaigner Will Jennings, also known for his satirical anti-Garden Bridge competition A Folly for London.
The webpage continues: ‘Throughout the project, the concerns of the community and the warnings of experts were dismissed by proponents of the scheme who recklessly spent public money at a frenetic pace, seemingly to push the project past a position of no return before Boris Johnson stepped down as mayor of London in 2016.
‘To the extent that any other money was spent, most has been repaid in full to private donors. Taxpayers from around the country – the public funding was evenly split between both national government and London’s City Hall – have borne almost all the cost of this shocking waste of money.’
Unlike the recent private prosecution by Marcus Ball, the proposed legal action would not target Johnson specifically and does not currently specify any particular target for the legal action. But it says lawyers have advised that there is 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, the arms-length charity established during Johnson’s second term to deliver the Heatherwick-designed bridge, was ultimately responsible for the bulk of the £53 million spent on the scheme, while Transport for London and the Charity Commission were the two public bodies directly overseeing it.
Earlier this year, the AJ revealed that a legal opinion from David Matthias QC had concluded that the Commission – which regulates charities – could face a judicial review challenge from a concerned member of the public due to its ‘failure’ to call the Garden Bridge trustees to account over losses resulting from prematurely signing a construction contract in early 2016.
An earlier opinion from Jason Coppel QC found it ‘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 contract ended up costing around half of the total public money lost on the project – £21.4 million.
The appeal has a 30-day target to reach an initial total of £5,000, a sum to be spent on obtaining an up-to-date legal opinion from a QC with a second stage setting a stretch target of £30,000 to fund the legal action ‘with the aim of returning money to public bodies or charity to be ringfenced for social/community/environmental projects approved by the claimant.’
Reacting to the appeal’s launch, Steve Norris, the former Conservative transport minister and mayoral candidate, said: ’I can quite understand why people get so angry about this egregious waste of taxpayers’ money on a vanity project which should never have seen the light of day.
’If this legal action is ultimately directed at the Garden Bridge Trust then it would need to target the Charity Commission in the first instance because it is the Commisison which has the responsibility of holding the trustees to account.’