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Halt final TfL payment to Garden Bridge Trust, says shadow minister

Garden bridge revised
  • 6 Comments

Preparations to pay the charity behind the Garden Bridge project its final multi-million pound chunk of public money should be suspended, the shadow transport secretary has said

The Garden Bridge Trust recently wrote to its public sector sponsor Transport for London with a request for up to £9 million of public money earmarked in an underwriting agreement provided by the Department for Transport (DfT).

However, Labour politicians including shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald have now called on TfL to withhold the money in the wake of a new legal opinion by a QC recently revealed by the AJ, raising the prospect of limiting the aborted scheme’s cost to the taxpayer, currently estimated at £46 million.

Jason Coppel, an expert in public and procurement law, said it was ‘likely’ that the trustees breached their legal duties to act with reasonable skill and care, ‘in particular in relation to the conclusion of the construction contract with Bouygues’, although he added that a claim against the trustees would not be straightforward due to the difficulty of any potential claimant proving they had suffered loss.

While Coppel’s opinion is understood to be strongly denied by the trustees, Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley has now written to TfL commissioner Mike Brown, attaching Coppel’s legal opinion and calling on Brown to ‘halt any payment of further public money to the trust’ until TfL had obtained its own legal advice over whether trustees had indeed breached their legal duties.

Copley’s intervention was backed by McDonald, the second shadow cabinet member to raise serious questions over the actions of the Garden Bridge Trust in recent weeks after repeated calls for a new Parliamentary inquiry were made by shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne.

Andy mcdonald

Andy mcdonald

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald

McDonald told the AJ: ‘It’s the right thing to do by taxpayers to attempt to recover every penny possible from Boris Johnson’s scandalous Garden Bridge vanity project.

‘The taxpayer’s interest must be the priority, and that means using whatever legal means are available in order to limit the cost to the public purse.’

In his letter to Brown, which was copied to London mayor Sadiq Khan and the Charity Commission and was dated August 7, Copley wrote: ‘It has come to my attention that the Garden Bridge Trust has yet to draw down the £9 million of public money provided by the DfT, but has recently made a request to do so which TfL is reviewing.

‘I’m sure you will have seen the opinion of Jason Coppel QC … in light of this opinion from an eminent QC, which I attach, I’m writing to ask you to halt any payment of further public money to the trust until you have sought legal advice as to whether TfL can withhold further payments on the grounds that the trustees may have breached their legal duties. If this is the case it should be the trustees that are liable, not the taxpayer.’

In its latest set of accounts, published recently by the Charity Commission after being submitted more than 150 days late, the trust estimated that it would request £5.5 million or less of the £9 million underwriting facility from TfL in order to meet its financial liabilities.

The DfT’s guarantee was controversially provided in 2016 by then transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin in the face of strong opposition from the department’s then permanent secretary Philip Rutnam.

Brown has yet to reply to Copley but a TfL spokesperson said: ‘The Garden Bridge Trust has written to TfL with a request for payment under the underwriting agreement. We are currently reviewing their request.’

The Garden Bridge Trust is currently in the process of winding up and trustees were unavailable for comment.

  • 6 Comments

Readers' comments (6)

  • Surely not difficult to prove that one particular claimant - the people of this country - have suffered very real loss, in that this money would otherwise be available to help mitigate the very real damage, in this time of official austerity, to a whole range of publicly financed initiatives of critical importance from inner city youth clubs to rural area bus services.

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  • This is a no-brainer - the trustees and their backers should be filling the black hole that is the garden bridge debacle, not the taxpayers!

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  • so am I right in thinking that the trustees of a charity asked the government to take the cost risk for them on their sole project, the whole purpose of the charity, so that they would not carry any financial risk personally if the venture came crashing down? Directors and trustees insurance is available commercially, and is in fact (I believe) a legal obligation but instead of this/as well as this they wanted the treasury to back them..... and the treasury said yes?

    Next time I take out car insurance or PI for that matter I will ask the treasury to cover my excess and see what answer I get....

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  • Clearly my view is arguably myopic due to by my 7 yearlong obsession with the delivery of another bridge further upstream (long story that doesn’t make it into the press) but this debacle has reached peak annoyance now particularly as it turns out that the £20m loan much lauded as a great deal for the tax payer was in fact utter hogwash and absolutely zero is actually a loan that is repayable. Utterly ridiculous situation.

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  • Phil Parker

    Does anybody know what the £9m will be used for?

    The project has stopped. The project team are disbanded. The Trust didn’t even own the land.

    What will £9m be spent on?? Who is owed money by the trust?

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  • Phil - It is partly the termination payment to the contractor and presumably the settling of final invoices from consultants. But back when they were spending with abandon, they dipped into private donor funds that were conditional on the project starting construction. So those donors need to be paid back.

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