The charity behind the Garden Bridge never came up with a ‘credible’ business plan, a key stakeholder in the project claims in newly released transcripts from Margaret Hodge’s official review
Local development and social enterprise group Coin Street Community Builders (CSCB) – the leaseholder of the Garden Bridge’s proposed south landing site – slammed the trust for its lack of focus on ‘operational issues’ and for failing to listen to its ‘legitimate concerns’ over staffing and its potential loss of income.
Speaking to Hodge, the Labour MP who was asked to examine the issues surrounding the Garden Bridge last September, CSCB’s chief executive Iain Tuckett said that Coin Street had been unwilling to lose up to £600,000, which it was able to earn each year from the land, by simply handing it over ‘for free’ to the trust.
The transcript was one of a large number released today following a demand made by the London Assembly.
Tuckett also stated that in more than three years of discussion the group was never given satisfactory answers from the trust about how security would be funded, adding ‘we were getting wild statements about how many people would be looking after [the bridge]’.
In response to this accusation, Hodge seemed to agree, stating: ‘I look at the business plan and I don’t have much confidence in their income sources.’
Tuckett also said the trust lacked the necessary experience for operating a major visitor attraction. ‘One of the things that became very apparent was there wasn’t a single member … who had experience on management of public realm,’ he said. ‘They’d got [deputy chair] Paul Morrell, who knew about construction; that was a good appointment. The rest were really there to raise money. And they relied on TfL [Transport for London] really for the planning.’
A full transcript of Tuckett’s candid comments – together with those of Coin street group chair Scott Rice – was made public yesterday (19 September) along with Hodge’s conversations with other key figures involved in the £200 million project.
The first bundle of transcripts, including interviews with bridge-backer Joanna Lumley, its designer Thomas Heatherwick as well as the practices who missed out on the scheme, namely Marks Barfield and WilkinsonEyre, are all now available on the London Assembly’s website.
Rice told Hodge that it had taken the trust two years to produce the business plan and had then demanded that Coin Street respond on it within two weeks.
He also strongly criticised Boris Johnson and TfL, telling Hodge: ‘I want to see London grow but I think, if you want a case study on how not to do things, they’ve pretty well demonstrated it – TfL and the Mayor’s Office.’
MORE TO FOLLOW
Key extracts from Coin Street interview
Rice: Coin Street’s board was clear from day one, in that we were broadly supportive of this bridge, but … we weren’t going to give away our land for free, nor were we going to make a year‐on‐year loss in order to facilitate it. It had to be a quid pro quo. And also we were not prepared to pick up the bill for all of the mess and all of the litter, so we said, “We’ll be supportive, we’ll work with you, but you need to provide a business plan and you need to listen to our legitimate concerns”. And I think all the way through until the end of 2014, and to some extent to this day, those legitimate concerns are repeatedly not listened to.
Rice: There was a particularly tense moment with Mervyn [Davies, the trust’s chair] after the meeting where I was up against a lift outside of the meeting and there was a bit of finger-waving, saying, ‘Well, if this project goes down, we’ll put the blame at Coin Street and you can imagine what that’s going to be like in the Evening Standard.’
We are a small community organisation that does social housing. They came along, they wanted to have the bridge. We said: “If Lambeth say yes, and Westminster say yes, and the mayor’s behind it and George Osborne’s behind it, we will not stop it. But what we’re not going to do is just roll over. We’re a campaign organisation. We will not roll over and just say we’re going to give you the land that we campaigned for free of charge and we’re not going to take any payment for it.
Garden Bridge, south landing site
Tuckett: Our view was, and remains, that if [the bridge] is properly managed it will be a benefit. If it isn’t properly managed it will become a liability and we made that statement in public …. In May  they [the trust] did this presentation and we said: ‘Look your staffing plan is simply not credible’.
Key extracts from Joanna Lumley interview
Coin Street wanted this very, very much bigger building on the South Bank, which means we cut down far more trees, but now there are notices tied all round the trees saying we are murdering the trees, and yet Coin Street have insisted on the size of this building which we’ve got to pay them money for and they want the thing.
We understand this deal but the fact that we’re taking the flak for a much bigger building, cutting down far more trees. I can understand Coin Street hating the idea of more people on their patch but we live in London. All of us have got our skylines desecrated, our roads shot to pieces.
‘I can understand Coin Street hating the idea of more people on their patch but we live in London’
This is called living in London, so I’m anxious that they aren’t the only voices heard. I’m anxious that Londoners – walkers particularly, people who can’t afford a bicycle or a car, might not even be able to afford a bus fare – can walk across the bridge. A lot has been done for cyclists and nothing really has done for pedestrians except enormous patches for tourists.
This is for Londoners. This is for Londoners and it’s so strange, Margaret, that something that I dreamed of almost calling ‘the people’s bridge’, because it would be funded by the very rich for people who have nothing, for perpetuity, for people, has suddenly been turned round into the toffs’ bridge; and you go, ‘Where did this happen?’ So it’s so odd and … anyway, it doesn’t matter. Whine, whine, whine. I’ve been told not to whine to you and I’m not going to but you suddenly feel the injustice and you go, “This is the people’s bridge for the people, a thing of utter beauty.
Links to all the first bundle of transcripts