Announcement that £20 million loan from Transport for London will be repaid in 50 years’ time attracts cross-party condemnation
On Monday, the charity building the £175 million Thomas Heatherwick-designed scheme, the Garden Bridge Trust, said it had struck a deal with Lambeth Council leader Lib Peck over contributions from the public purse.
The agreement reduces the £30 million initially pledged by Transport for London (TfL) to £10 million, with the remaining £20 million to be paid back by the private sector or from future revenues.
Few details have been given on the terms of the loan, including whether interest will be paid. However, the Garden Bridge Trust has now confirmed that the repayment period is over 50 years from the date the bridge opens.
Conservative London Assembly member Andrew Boff – a former leader of the Tory group at the Greater London Authority (GLA) and 2016 London mayoral candidate – said he was taken aback by the terms of the deal.
‘It’s a vanity project and I haven’t got a clue how we have got so far with it,’ he said. ‘I’m sure there would be quite a queue of projects in London wanting to come forward for a loan of £20 million repayable over 50 years.
‘The bridge is in a place we don’t need it, solves a problem we don’t have at a price we can’t afford. Whatever the financial constraints or the serious concerns about procurement it is an insult to East London, where a crossing would make more sense.’
Sian Berry, the Green Party candidate for London mayor, said that nothing in the latest announcement altered her view that the project is ‘a massive waste of public funds’.
‘We are told that TfL has reduced the amount of public money it is proposing to throw at this unnecessary vanity project,’ she said. ‘But they are still paying £10 million towards it from the transport budget, with another £20 million as a loan, with repayment by no means certain, while a further £30 million is also coming from national funds.’
Despite support for the new deal from Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan, who called the arrangement a ‘much better deal for Londoners’, and from Lambeth’s Labour administration, Vauxhall’s Labour MP Kate Hoey has also announced her opposition.
She told the SE1 website that she is ‘shocked’ by Lambeth’s change of view in the six weeks since it terminated discussions with the Garden Bridge Trust on a southern landing site for the bridge.
‘The money issue is only one reason for opposition and it looks like the Garden Bridge’s whole financial projections just don’t stack up,’ she said.
Lib Dem leader in the Assembly and the party’s 2016 mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon – who has persistently queried the scheme’s procurement – said: ‘A 50-year loan to the Garden Bridge Trust raises the question of whether the money will actually be repaid.’
The new funding agreement contradicts the terms of the Department for Transport’s 2014 agreement with mayor Boris Johnson that central government’s contribution of £30 million should be matched by the GLA and TfL.
It also contradicts the funding deal signed this summer between TfL and the Garden Bridge Trust which says on page 5, ‘TfL and the Department for Transport (“DfT”) have agreed that TfL will provide each of TfL’s and DfT’s contributions to the Trust on a pari passu basis, taking into account the amounts already spent by TfL on the Project’.
However, a TfL spokesperson said: ‘These changes to the funding arrangements for the Garden Bridge have been agreed with the Department for Transport and will be reflected in a variation to the existing funding agreement.’
A spokesperson for the Garden Bridge Trust declined to comment.
Comment from Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance
‘The Garden Bridge serves no practical purpose so taxpayers will be deeply concerned to hear that it will take 50 years for their money to be paid back. It is the responsibility of politicians to make sure that taxpayers get value for their hard-earned cash so legitimate questions have to be asked about the validity of this absurd vanity project.
There are far more sensible options for bridges which are actually needed to solve infrastructure problems, for example down the river in East London, and private funds should be sought for such a project.’
Garden Bridge's £20m public loan to be repaid over 50 years