London’s controversial Garden Bridge scheme is in serious jeopardy after it emerged the charity developing it is no longer a going concern and that costs could ‘substantially’ increase from £185 million
The long-delayed accounts of the Garden Bridge Trust, published by Companies House and covering a 17 month period up to the end of March last year, also blame the EU referendum result as being partly responsible for delays to the scheme and say any further delays may lead to its termination.
The accounts confirm that no new private funding has been secured for the Thomas Heatherwick-designed bridge since spring 2015 and that the funding gap has increased to £56 million due to an increase in the budget from £175 million to £185 million last summer.
The project has received £60 million of funding from the taxpayer via the Department for Transport and Transport for London (TfL), £20 million of which is being treated as a long-term loan repayable to TfL.
As well as the funding gap, the bridge still has to secure the land on both sides of the Thames, a licence from the Port of London Authority and a guarantee from London mayor Sadiq Khan to underwrite the estimated £3 million annual cost of maintaining and operating the 366m-long bridge between Temple and the South Bank. It is also facing a review into its value for money and controversial procurement history by former Labour culture secretary Margaret Hodge.
In a section on fundraising, the accounts state: ‘Due to the hurdles still to be cleared and the ensuing delays, the final cost could substantially exceed the formal estimate. Until the hurdles have been overcome and the subsequent programme refined we will not obtain a definite estimate.
‘Nevertheless, we have developed an updated fundraising strategy that reflects the increased costs. This has included re-evaluating the number of funding opportunities and their value.’
In an overview, the trust’s chair Mervyn Davies said the project had made ‘enormous progress’ but had been hit by numerous challenges and hold-ups.
He wrote: ‘We must secure rights to the necessary land on both sides of the river and complete the associated planning requirements. Whilst the previous mayor committed to providing a guarantee for the future maintenance and operations of the Garden Bridge, we are awaiting confirmation from the current mayor to ensure he will honour this commitment.
‘Finally, we need to increase the unrestricted funding and underwriting available to the project and secure the remaining private sector funding.’
We are determined to make the project happen. We expect to start construction in 2017
Mervyn Davies, chair of the Garden Bridge Trust
On the financial health of the trust, he said: ’Due to the material uncertainties in existence ahead of finalising these accounts, trustees are unable to conclude that the Trust is a going concern and feel it is only appropriate to flag these risks in this report.’
He said that it was hoped the risks it faced would be resolved in the coming months, but added: ‘Since a number of these are outside the control of the trustees, they recognise that if this is not possible, they will need to consider the further delay to the project, and in a worst-case scenario, whether the project remains viable.’
Davies claimed delays including ‘judicial reviews of local council decisions … protracted negotiations with third parties and a challenging political climate including a new mayor of London, the EU referendum and the subsequent change in government’ had led to cost increases.
However, he concluded that the project’s earlier successes had convinced trustees that they would still meet their fundraising targets.
In a more upbeat statement released to the media on Wednesday morning (11 Jan), Davies added: ’The Garden Bridge Trust has made significant progress to get to a stage where we have completed detailed pre-construction work and have a contractor on board.
’We have consistently flagged the areas of risk to the project about acquiring land, the signing of the mayoral guarantee, our funding position and the cost of the project. These matters are dependent on third parties and are outside trustees’ control and have led to delays.
’The trustees are duty bound to disclose these risks and how we intend to deal with them, in this report. We strongly believe we can progress all outstanding issues and we are determined to make the project happen. We look forward to working with our supporters, including the mayor and the government to make the Garden Bridge a reality. We expect to start construction in 2017.’
Will Jennings, anti-Garden Bridge campaigner and founder of A Folly for London
‘While the trust lists a number of delays to the project, at no point do they mention the strong public opposition and dislike of their development. It’s almost as if the public and citizens are irrelevant to their aims and plans.’
Tom Copley, Labour London Assembly Member
‘This report makes for incredibly concerning reading. We already knew this venture was strapped for cash but now Londoners will rightly worry that there’ll be an attempt to draw on more public funds.
‘With the Garden Bridge Trust desperately trying to persuade donors to part with their cash before construction has even begun, and serious risks to its status as a going concern, it looks like a development on the verge of collapse.
‘If we’re to stop more public cash being frittered away on this floundering project then we need the mayor to refuse to sign the maintenance guarantee. We need him to give that reassurance.’
Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member
‘Even advocates of the Garden Bridge with rose-tinted glasses will find these accounts incredibly concerning.
‘The trust has finally admitted what most people have long expected was the case: that the final cost of the project is likely to increase substantially above the current £185 million predicted cost.
‘The trust is admitting for the second time that the costs of this project are spiralling upwards. That can only mean an even greater risk to the taxpayer ultimately picking up the costs of this folly of a project.
‘The other admissions of the Garden Bridge Trust relating to a wide range of other risks are also significant and should concern every London taxpayer.
‘The harsh reality is that the Garden Bridge is on the brink of collapse. The mayor of London must now do the right thing. He should refuse to provide a taxpayer guarantee for the project and so put the whole sorry saga to an end.’