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Heatherwick and Boris promoted Garden Bridge before ‘rigged’ TfL design contest

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EXCLUSIVE: London Assembly members accuse Boris Johnson of a ‘cover up’ over 2013 commercial sponsorship pitch made to Apple in California

London mayor Boris Johnson has been accused of a ‘cover up’ and misleading the London Assembly over the Garden Bridge after the AJ uncovered dramatic new evidence about his secret fundraising trip to San Francisco.

Last month it emerged Johnson had flown to the US city in early February 2013 in an effort to win corporate sponsorship for a ‘Garden Bridge’ before his administration had given official backing to such a scheme.

The AJ has now learnt that Apple was the target of the fundraising and that Garden Bridge designer Thomas Heatherwick -– who just days later took part in a TfL bridge contest against Marks Barfield and Wilkinson Eyre which he went on to win – was part of the pitch to the tech giant in California made between Sunday 3 February and Tuesday 5 February.

The revelation was seized on by critics who have long argued that successful lobbying of the mayor by Heatherwick and Garden Bridge champion Joanna Lumley led to a ‘pre-judged’ and ‘unfair’ contest - a claim first reported by AJ in March 2015 following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request which revealed irregular scoring.

The mayor came under further fire after sources close to Apple appeared to contradict his repeated assertion that he could not provide the names of those who took part in the San Francisco pitch because this would compromise ongoing discussions with the firm over potential sponsorship, a claim he also made to the London Assembly’s oversight committee last month.

However, the AJ understands that Apple, which is headquartered in Cupertino in California and is the world’s largest tech company by assets, has no involvement in the Garden Bridge and is not considering getting involved.

Len Duvall, chair of committee - which has been investigating the procurement of the bridge for several months - said the Garden Bridge increasingly resembled a scandal and questioned if it could still go ahead.

He said: ‘Boris Johnson needs to start being entirely upfront about his role in the procurement process. We’ll be pushing him to come clean about exactly why he misled the assembly, willingly or not.’

‘If … the mayor has been caught travelling to America on taxpayers’ money to promote Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge before the procurement process had concluded it would show the utter contempt Boris has for the rules which are specifically in place to prevent undue influence. This debacle is increasingly looking like a scandal and we now need full disclosure.

This debacle is increasingly looking like a scandal

‘There are now so many questions about the procurement process that I find it hard to believe the project could continue with this kind of allegation hanging over it.’

Labour’s mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan said:Boris Johnson has growing questions to answer about the procurement process for the Garden Bridge. The public has a right to know whether everything has been fair and above board.

’It just goes to show that we need a Labour Mayor and a fresh start in City Hall.’

Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Lib Dems in the assembly and the party’s mayoral candidate, called for an end to what she described as a ‘cover up’. FOI requests made by her office had revealed several facts about the fundraising trip including the involvement of Apple.

‘It is staggering that the mayor of London, who is also the chair of TfL, considered it acceptable to fly at taxpayers’ expense all the way across to San Francisco to seemingly drum up support for Thomas Heatherwick’s proposal for a Garden Bridge when TfL had not even published their invitation to tender,’ she said.

‘It is only through the painstaking process of a stream of FOI requests that this information has now come to light and confirmed once again the long standing suspicion held by many that the procurement process was rigged from the very start. Instead of repeatedly dodging questions asked by London Assembly members, the mayor must now publish in full the exact details of his meetings he held during this trip. It is time this cover up ended.’

Appearing before the oversight committee on December 17, the mayor appeared to agree in principle to release information on which individuals had taken part in the San Francisco trip following discussion with his officials. He refused to name them at the meeting claiming this would prejudice ongoing conversations with the potential sponsor.

He said: ‘As you will appreciate, there are still discussions going on with this body about potential sponsorship. I don’t particularly want to prejudice those conversations. There are some quite promising lines of conversation.’

This reason for not disclosing further information about the trip was also cited in an FOI response to Caroline Pidgeon’s office earlier this month.

The mayor had also failed to report the trip in his monthly report to the London Assembly and had listed it as a ‘private trip’ in his diary when this was released under FOI.

However, the £10,000 bill was picked up by the taxpayer with expenses claims made in January 2013 showing that Johnson and deputy mayor for planning Edward Lister both claimed more than £4,000 for return flights to San Francisco, while deputy mayor for transport Isabel Dedring also attended, claiming less than £400 for airline tickets.

The TfL invitation to tender which went out to Marks Barfield, Wilkinson Eyre and Heatherwick Studio on the Feburary 13 2013 made no mention of a ‘Garden Bridge’ but asked simply for concept designs for a pedestrian bridge between Temple and the South Bank.

A spokesperson for the mayor said: ‘The mayor met with Apple in 2013 to discuss a number of investment opportunities in London. Thomas Heatherwick was also in California to meet a separate commitment with Apple. Given that he had already expressed interest in creating a Garden Bridge, the Mayor invited him to join the meeting and outline his ideas.

’That meeting had no bearing on the procurement process led by Transport for London for the design of the Garden Bridge, which was open, fair and transparent.

‘The Garden Bridge will be a spectacular new addition to London. Work on building the bridge is due to begin this year and it is widely supported by Londoners and businesses on both sides of the river.’

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Len Duvall, Labour member of the London Assembly and chair of its oversight committee

‘Boris Johnson needs to start being entirely upfront about his role in the procurement process. We’ll be pushing him to come clean about exactly why he misled the assembly, willingly or not.

‘If … the mayor has been caught travelling to America on taxpayer money to promote Thomas Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge before the procurement process had concluded it would show the utter contempt Boris has for the rules which are specifically in place to prevent undue influence.

‘This debacle is increasingly looking like a scandal and we now need full disclosure. The mayor, as chair of TfL, appears to have undertaken activities in support of this bid which, when combined with the questions about TfL’s procurement process, increasingly look like an attempt to stitch up the procurement for a favoured architect and project.

‘For months we have tried to get to the bottom of this only for the mayor to hide behind questionable claims that funding discussions were ongoing. Now that defence has been well and truly rebuffed the mayor has no option but to come clean.

‘There are now so many questions about the procurement process that I find it hard to believe the project could continue with this kind of allegation hanging over it.’

 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Well, it's a relief that Apple - with its allergy to paying taxes in Britain - isn't involved in funding the Garden Bridge charity.
    But other multinationals with the same expensive (for us) allergy - Citi (aka Citigroup, Citibank etc), and now Sky, are giving the charity substantial sums of what might more logically be due in UK taxes.
    And the grotesque joke is that they're in partnership with the UK's taxpayers, who've made an involuntary contribution to the charity of £60m (and counting) courtesy of George & Boris.
    The grotesquery doesn't stop there - at least three of our best known and most gifted architects have been applauding the project in the full knowledge (unless they're brain dead) that the architectural design procurement process was quite obviously and outrageously skewed.
    I'm not aware that their own reputations have been 'helped' by winning fiddled design competitions, and It's a big surprise that integrity in these matters doesn't seem to be on their radar.

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