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Garden Bridge: TfL reveals total cost as it agrees to make final payment

Garden bridge graphic new
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Taxpayers will pay for 81 per cent of the £53 million wasted on Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge, it has emerged

The revelations come after Transport for London (TfL) decided to hand over a final payment of £5.5 million to the charity behind the aborted project.

Despite repeated calls from leading politicians to halt this payment – part of an underwriting facility established by the Department for Transport (DfT) when the project was still live – TfL said it had no choice but to pay the money after obtaining legal advice from a QC.

This advice was commissioned after another QC, Jason Coppel, suggested that the trustees of the Garden Bridge Trust breached their legal duties to act with reasonable skill and care.

A TfL spokesperson said: ‘TfL has now concluded its review [of the GBT’s request for the underwriting payment] and confirmed that the final amount payable to the trust is £5.5 million. This will come from DfT funding, and include around £500,000 for future liabilities and contingency associated with the formal wind-up of the trust in accordance with Charity Commission requirements.

The total cost to the taxpayer will now be £43 million – split between £24 million from TfL and £19 million from the DfT

‘It is around 40 per cent lower than it could have been. This also means the final public sector spend will be around £43 million – split between £24 million from TfL and £19 million from the DfT.

‘As part of the review of the assessment, TfL also sought independent legal advice from a leading QC, following concerns raised about whether the trustees of the Garden Bridge Trust may have breached their legal duties. This legal advice found that there is no reasonable prospect of TfL (or DfT) being legally able to either withhold future payments or recover past payments, and this too has been published online as part of TfL’s wider transparency commitment. TfL also described the assessment process to its external auditors EY and has taken them through the evidence in detail.’

TfL director of city planning Alex Williams said: ‘As part of our continuing commitment to transparency, we have published the final financial breakdown for the Garden Bridge project, on behalf of the trust, as well as all evidence sought as part of this review.

‘We worked to ensure that the cost to the public sector has been kept to a minimum, and having carefully reviewed the Garden Bridge Trust’s request, we have now confirmed the final payment legally required under the terms of the underwriting agreement made by the government. This formally ends our involvement with the project.’

Comment

Tom Copley, Labour London assembly member 

It’s galling to see the costs of Boris’ botched Bridge continuing to escalate for London’s taxpayers. David Cameron needs to answer why, in his eagerness to see Boris Johnson’s scheme go through, he intervened to overrule the advice of senior civil servants in order to extend the underwriting for the Bridge.

There’s a deep sense of unfairness about this whole ordeal – we have a QC stating that the Garden Bridge trustees may have breached their legal duties, which begs the question of whether morally, if not legally, the bill should land at their feet and not taxpayers’.

While this is government money, our London Assembly investigation into TfL’s role in this project is very much ongoing. We’ll be asking why TfL officials failed to veto additional funds when it was so plainly obvious that the Garden Bridge was flailing.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Talking of TfL's 'wider transparency commitment', the AJ's parallel piece today on 'who got what' makes interesting reading, but could there not be an account of what proportion of the £43m was spent on the legal profession? The £235,000 paid to Coin Street alone, mostly to cover their legal expenses, suggests that details of the total legal bill would also make interesting reading.

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  • Accompanying the decision to cravenly give £5m to the Garden Bridge Trust (to pay off those "philanthropists" who had given this unicorn project wings by investing in it, but were now threatening to sue the GBT if they didn't get their millions back!) TfL dumped 500 pages of information, in the hope, presumably, of obscuring everything by a wilderness of mirrors.

    Could TfL have witheld this £5m because the GBT had behaved recklessly in signing a £100m construction contract for a bridge without having the land to build it on, the funds to build it, or an implementable planning permission? This was all done in a hurry in spring 2016 because Boris was about to go and they wanted to tie the hands of his successor.

    Buried in the papers is the revelation that the legal advice TfL received was no, TfL couldn't withold payment... because TfL had overseen/approved the GBT signing the construction contract at the time - a decision taken by Mike Brown, TfL Commissioner, on the basis of a greenlighting report by Richard De Cani, who was about to join Arup, which stood to make £8m and more out of the project... Why hadn't De Cani been put on gardening leave with this very clear conflict of interest? Mike Brown declared confidence in De Cani, and the rest is history, and BACs payments.

    Whatever happened to Mike Brown? Well, he remained pugnaciously bullish about the Bullshit Bridge until Sadiq finally pulled the plug. But he still remains Commissioner at TfL, responsible for a £1bn hole in the TfL budget, because of... another project whose costs have spiralled out of control.

    Why exactly is this man paid £438,000? Why on earth does Sadiq continue to have confidence in him?

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