Extraordinary meeting of GLA Oversight Committee also hears of Arup legal threats to the AJ and Margaret Hodge MP
The London Assembly is to take legal advice on whether officials involved with spending decisions on the Garden Bridge are guilty of illegal misconduct.
Speaking at a hearing of the GLA Oversight Committee yesterday (Wednesday 11 October), chair Len Duvall told Transport for London commissioner Mike Brown it appeared TfL had drawn down millions of pounds of money towards the now-cancelled project, around the time Heatherwick Studio and Arup were selected, without carrying out due diligence.
‘I’m not one for taking heads, but £46 million has been lost to the public through this project,’ he told Brown.
Duvall said he wanted TfL to look again at the ‘five or six months leading up to the first TfL report which said this was a project’.
The TfL board is required to sign off major projects worth more than £25 million. However, the Garden Bridge was not reported to the board until July 2013, after the appointment of both designer Heatherwick Studio and engineering designer Arup. The first mayoral direction to TfL was not made until September of that year.
Duvall continued: ‘I think you need to write back to us to say whether there was any illegality or ultra vires activity done by TfL before it went to the TfL governance board or had any mayoral direction. I think we need some legal advice.
‘I want to make sure this never happens again and we learn the lessons … the checks and balances don’t seem to have been there in terms of officials. And in terms of politicians, they’ve been eased off on but I don’t think they should have been – that’s my personal view.’
The checks and balances don’t seem to have been there
Duvall added he was willing to work with TfL in obtaining legal advice and said he was also concerned about TfL’s internal audit, which had its introduction and conclusion radically altered through what he called ‘topping and tailing’.
‘Frankly, what were people trying to hide in terms of the internal process? I think there may well be misconduct of officials.
‘I don’t take that lightly but I think there may be a case for the GLA [to investigate] of misconduct of officials. I don’t see how we can conclude with the Garden Bridge without looking at that issue.’
Garden Bridge engineer Arup also came under fire during the meeting after fellow committee member Tom Copley revealed it had recently made a legal threat against The Architects’ Journal, whose long-running investigation into the Garden Bridge has focused heavily on its procurement.
Copley referred to email correspondence between Arup and TfL officers in mid 2013 recently released to the AJ under FOI. Copley said these emails suggested contact between the two organisations in relation to the Garden Bridge which was in breach of the tender Arup later won in July 2013.
He said: ‘I want to put on the record that, when The Architects’ Journal … approached Arup for a comment, they were sent the following letter from the Arup group legal director and I will quote it: “I write further to the request for comment sent by Will Hurst of The Architects’ Journal to one of my colleagues … I am concerned about some of the insinuations being made in Will Hurst’s email. He makes incorrect allegations against Arup for example in respect of collusion, that Arup broke multiple tender rules and failed to declare conflicts of interest.
“None of these allegations are substantiated against Arup by the contents of his email and I am concerned that such statements might be repeated in any published articles. Fair criticism of the Garden Bridge project is perfectly reasonable but I cannot accept defamatory statements which would otherwise cause Arup serious harm or financial loss. I trust that you will consider these issues carefully before publishing and will ensure the article, if any [is published], is accurate and is supported by fact not supposition.”’
Copley pointed out that the letter was in response to AJ’s questions rather than any published article and added: ‘I believe it’s important that the public see the actions of a multi-billion pound company against a small trade publication.’
Margaret Hodge, the author of the damning official report into the £200 million bridge, also gave evidence to the committee. Questioned by Copley, she confirmed she had also received a ‘similar’ legal letter from Arup in the course of her inquiries and agreed to a request from the committee to provide any such legal letters to them.
The committee was also told by Hodge that she believed the cost to the public purse of the Heatherwick-designed scheme would have topped £100 million if London mayor Sadiq Khan had not withdrawn his support.
Hodge also repeated her regrets that former mayor Boris Johnson was the only figure who refused to co-operate with her inquiry. ‘He should explain himself,’ she said. ‘It’s not the idea, which is perfectly legitimate. It’s the due process.’