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Heatherwick defends Garden Bridge

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Thomas Heatherwick has urged all parties to ‘hold their nerve’ on the Garden Bridge, as the project’s chairman revealed that delays had increased the project’s cost to £185 million and it emerged that the funding gap had increased

The architect told the BBC that the scheme was being used as a political football.

‘I think there’s all sorts of people who want to get their little agenda and pin it on to a project, which is this amazing project,’ he said. ‘How can it possibly be a bad thing to stitch the city together better, to create new public space that we’ve never had before; new views for all of us back at London.’

 

Heatherwick’s comments came in yesterday’s Newsnight (17 August) in which the chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust, Mervyn Davies, revealed the cost of the proposed bridge across the Thames had increased by £10 million and that the completion date would be 2019, rather than the scheduled 2018. The funding gap for the controversial project was also shown to be larger than previously thought.

Davies said in a statement today that it would be a ‘tragedy’ if the government withdrew its support for the bridge. Last month, Davies wrote to transport secretary Chris Grayling asking him to show the government’s continued commitment by extending its £15 million underwriting of the project by a year to September 2017.

The cost of the project was originally £175 million, with £60 million coming from taxpayers, leaving £115 million to be raised from private companies, trusts and individuals.

Documents published earlier this year revealed a funding gap of about £30 million, but Newsnight found this had grown to £52 million. Today the trust admitted it still needed £55.9 million to meet its fundraising total, having raised just over £69 million of private funding between 2013 and June this year

A Garden Bridge Trust spokesperson told the programme: ‘Last year a small number of pledges made by interested organisations did not progress to formal funding contracts.’

 

Davies said that donors who were currently anonymous would only reveal their support once building work commenced. He told Newsnight that the fundraising had ‘good momentum’ but that the project had lost ‘one or two’ sponsors perhaps because of the scheme’s uncertainty. In one case, a backer withdrew its support due to a change in chief executive.

London politicians reacted to the revelations by calling on the project to be abandoned.

‘The Garden Bridge limps from scandal to crisis,’ said Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley. ‘With private donors pulling out of the project there is an ever growing risk of the Garden Bridge Trust coming cap in hand to the taxpayer for more funds. It’s time to put this bloated piece of Johnsonian indulgence out of its misery and scrap the project.’

Liberal Democrat London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon suggested London mayor Sadiq Khan should end the taxpayer financial guarantee for the long-term maintenance and upkeep of the ‘vanity project’. She added: ‘The fact that the Garden Bridge Trust have to write begging letters to the new secretary of state for transport, having already spent so much public money, says everything about just how uncertain this project now finds itself.’

Davies admitted today that it was a ‘crucial’ time for the bridge. ‘We have faced considerable challenges but we are now on the brink of building a truly unique crossing,’ he said. ‘It would be a tragedy if the government withdrew their support now.

‘The decision now rests with the DfT [Department for Transport] to extend the underwriting. We are not asking for more public money but we do need the government’s renewed backing.’

A DfT spokesperson said ministers were considering the trustees’ request.

Construction on the bridge cannot start until deals are finalised for the land needed on both sides of the river and planning matters are resolved. The trust says it believes this will happen this autumn.

2016.03.24   Garden Bridge Timeline of key events   smaller

2016.03.24 Garden Bridge Timeline of key events smaller

  • 4 Comments

Readers' comments (4)

  • So the architect told the BBC that the scheme was being used as a political football. Is Mr H an architect? Nothing on the ARB register. Perhaps the AJ can clarify.

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  • So its revealed there is a £52m funding shortfall, multiple funders have fallen away, costs are escalating, the project is not ready to commence and there is a request that the cost of underwriting insurance for an extension of the projects be borne by Gov.

    The project is based on a fundamentally flawed business plan (see reports: www.abridgetoofar.co.uk/archive/ ) made public only in May 2016. This fails to account for any downside risks and has an extremely optimistic bias that is not evidenced. The Business plan is incomparable with other public venues (think failed lottery project). 70% of funds are shown to come from individuals and corporate sponsors when comparable London public venues attract only 10-35% (Tate, V&A, Science Museum Grp.). To effect their business plan a further £15m endowment fund is required to generate income from year 1.

    In this the repayment for the £20m loan (@2% interest) in the required 55 year period from completion is not robust at all and when reasonable downside risks are accounted the public guarantee of the c.£3.5m annual maintenance costs appears likely to be called upon early.

    £37.7m has already been expended without due scrutiny and with nothing to show. This sum is close to the completion cost of the Bankside ‘wobbly’ bridge on current values.

    It was revealed on Newsnight that TfL sit on the Garden Bridge Trust Board. This fact is not apparent from their website – and TfL’s ongoing lack of due diligence on this project must be questioned more closely.

    The public have been repeatedly informed this project was done, dusted and all go. At each stage this has been revealed to be vacuous spin. This has been a nepotistic capture of the public purse.

    Heads should role – why aren’t they?
    How much longer are the public to be taken for a ride?

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  • The persuasive Mr Heatherwick obviously sees the river as a heaven sent opportunity to make his mark - big time - but his Newsnight spiel seemed to me to be no more than an attempt to drag in in every possible sort of justification, however tenuous.
    So he sees the Thames as a chance to create a big statement, but to my mind he shows scant - if any - respect for our river itself.
    He's surely correct in emphasising that the project is important way beyond London - but not for the reason he thinks.
    Not for itself, but for its impact on the river setting of this part of central London, and it beggars belief that the planning process for something with this amount of visual impact in this context was just a matter of getting local politicians in Lambeth and Westminster 'on side', with the help of a high profile luvvie, the schemings of an ambitious and remarkably devious Mayor of London, and rampant cronyism.
    Where was the national oversight, or is London to be seen as a city-state, like Singapore, in the making - and a law unto itself?

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  • Having now caught up with the next day's BBC Newsnight follow-up piece on the nuances of the Trust's statement confirming Lord Davies' talk of 'tragedy', it's interesting that 'Whitehall sources' rejected any notion that the fate of the project was in the government's hands.
    In effect, the Trust had to get their project to work, or call time on it - and apparently one 'Whitehall source' told Newsnight that the government wasn't in the business of backing white elephants.
    As Newsnight reported last month, government enthusiasm for the project has cooled off - and I just wonder whether the fact that a lot of our money has apparently been 'front loaded' on project expenditure without having first cleared all the hurdles to achieve financial and legal closure has concentrated some political minds on whether this affair could become a lot more toxic.

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