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Garden Bridge Trust meetings come under City Hall microscope

City Hall by Michael Walker-Toye
  • 1 Comment

The charity behind the cancelled Garden Bridge project is under pressure to hand over records of its key decisions amid continuing questions over the estimated loss of £46 million of public money 

The Garden Bridge Trust, set up to develop and fundraise for the Heatherwick-designed scheme, was overseen by Transport for London (TfL) with its board meetings attended by a senior TfL officer.

Despite this, TfL failed to keep records of these meetings, its commissioner Mike Brown has now admitted.

Following pressure from London Assembly member Tom Copley, who wrote to Brown about his concerns in December, TfL has now called on the trust – which is being wound up – to produce copies of the minutes of the meetings.

Tom copley and mike brown

Tom copley and mike brown

London Assembly member Tom Copley (left) and TfL commissioner Mike Brown

Copley said: ‘The fact that TfL can’t produce the minutes of Garden Bridge Trust meetings once again demonstrates that they were far too lax in their oversight of a project to which millions of pounds of taxpayer cash had been committed.

‘I’m pleased that the commissioner has now committed to obtaining the minutes from the trust, which should help to shed more light on how the trust behaved in its oversight of the project, particularly with regards to contracts and finances.’

Copley is a member of the London Assembly’s oversight committee, which is continuing to investigate the scandal-hit £200 million bridge project. In December it issued a summons to London’s former mayor Boris Johnson to answer questions on the scheme, which will cost the taxpayer around £46.4m despite being scrapped according to MP Margaret Hodge.

The failure of TfL to keep accurate records of all discussions and decisions taken at these meetings is totally unacceptable

In a letter to Brown sent on 13 December, Copley wrote: ‘As you will no doubt agree, the failure of TfL to keep accurate records of all discussions and decisions taken at these meetings is totally unacceptable.’

Copley also pointed to the Garden Bridge’s Deed of Grant, which was signed in 2015 by both organisations and commits the trust to keep accurate records of income, expenditure and the project’s progress. It also sets out TfL’s right to inspect these and take copies.

In his reply of December 22, Brown said TfL’s director of city planning had written to the trust to request the minutes and promised these would be shared with Copley and the oversight committee. He also denied that that TfL should already have the minutes.

‘The Garden Bridge Trust was responsible for the delivery and funding of the project,’ Brown wrote. ‘The trust was an independent charitable company, and we did not run it. It was therefore the trust’s responsibility to keep proper records of the project’s progress, as well as the running of the trust.’

The AJ revealed in early December that Garden Bridge designer Thomas Heatherwick helped to found the trust and personally head-hunted the organisation’s chair and deputy chair despite his repeated denials, in interviews, of being a member of or a part of the trust.

A spokesperson for the Garden Bridge Trust said it was in the process of winding up and that its resources were too limited ‘to allocate any more resources’ to answering the AJ’s questions.

 

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Mike Brown is the chief officer of the largest spending single public organisation in the country, yet he still doesn’t get it. Why?

    The Garden Bridge was a TfL project being delivered by an independent charity reliant almost exclusively on TfL money. It is the norm that representatives of sponsors and/or major funders of public projects sit on the board or steering group for the project; in this case, with the charity a Special Purpose Vehicle established at the behest of the Mayor and with support from TfL, such oversight was explicitly written into the terms of the Deed of Grant. Yet Brown doesn’t think it’s TfL’s job to even have records!

    Which of Brown’s minions went to the meetings? Was it the senior officer who oversaw the cooking up of the procurement of Arup, and who was subsequently given a senior job by Arup?

    Does Brown care? While Boris was still Mayor, Brown reacted like an over-promoted bully when questioned by the GLA Scrutiny Committee, suggesting he had real work to do rather than answer their tedious questions about a Garden Bridge project for which he continued to bend policy and commit funds. Brown ate the tiniest morsel of humble pie at the last Scrutiny meeting in autumn 2017, when the project had been abandoned by its ‘deliverers’ who had delivered nothing but swallowed £46m of public funds: Brown appeared then to casually waft away serious questions about his conduct.

    He was warned then that what officers were up to may prove to have been illegal. His head is really sticking out, but Brown is calling the Scrutiny Committee’s bluff with his insouciance.

    It’s time his head was served up on a plate – he might then finally take his culpability seriously, and may even finger the vanishing Boris…

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