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