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Heatherwick's secret Garden Bridge meetings revealed

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The designer of the £175million Garden Bridge held at least five meetings with London’s mayor or deputy mayors prior to TfL’s contest, FOI response shows

London mayor Boris Johnson or senior members of his team held at least five meetings on the Garden Bridge with Thomas Heatherwick before the launch of the design contest for the bridge - a competition the designer went on to win.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) response to the Architects’ Journal from the mayor’s office (see attachment) has revealed Heatherwick attended four official meetings at the highest levels of London government about the Garden Bridge ahead of the invited competition organised by Transport for London (TfL).

As has previously been reported, Heatherwick also met Johnson in San Francisco in early February 2013 to discuss a possible sponsorship deal with Apple - a meeting which took place just days before TfL’s invited tender went out later that month.

The latest FOI response said no minutes for any of the meetings were available.

Nevertheless, the limited information divulged will be seized on by the growing army of critics who argue that TfL’s design contest was rigged in Heatherwick’s favour following lobbying of Johnson - who is chairman of TfL as well as mayor - to support the Garden Bridge proposals by Heatherwick himself and project champion Joanna Lumley.

The second two meetings took place on two successive days just ahead of the San Francisco trip. The first, with deputy mayor for planning Edward Lister on the 31st January 2013 was described as a ‘planning proposal meeting’ while the second involved all of the senior GLA officials who took part in the trip to California – Lister, Johnson and deputy mayor for transport Isabel Dedring.

The earliest meeting, held on the 24th September 2012, was attended by both Heatherwick and Lumley as well as Johnson, Lister and Dedring and was described by the mayor’s office as a ‘meeting to discuss the idea for a Garden Bridge’. The next, on 17th December 2012 was described as a meeting to discuss ‘Garden Bridge next steps’ and was attended by Heatherwick, Lumley and Dedring.

The AJ first reported concerns about the Transport for London concept design contest for the bridge - which also involved losing bidders Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield - in December 2014.

Since then, the AJ has used FOI to reveal the apparently irregular scoring process which saw Heatherwick win as well as the fact that the brief to the three firms made no mention of a garden or planted element, asking only for pedestrian bridge designs.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: ’An audit of Transport for London’s procurement process has already found that it was open, fair and transparent; and the Mayor does not intend to halt a project that will be a spectacular new addition to London.

‘Work on building the bridge is due to begin this year and is widely supported by Londoners and businesses on both sides of the river.’

TfL has also been contacted for comment.

Heatherwick Studio declined to comment.

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Readers' comments (3)

  • Anybody surprised there...?

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  • Can't we just get rid of this intrusive monster on London's wonderful river, and save everybody a hell of a money better spent elsewhere?

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  • I wonder if Johnson, Lister, Dedring and Heatherwick were all temporarily 'under the influence' of some mysterious corrupting power, or whether this garden bridge affair is just the tip of a public procurement rotten iceberg?

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