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London mayor halts Garden Bridge construction work


Sadiq Khan freezes enabling scheme at Temple Tube station over fears of further taxpayer exposure

London’s new mayor has effectively suspended work on the Garden Bridge because of concerns that an enabling project at Temple Tube station will lead to more public money being spent on the £175 million project.

Transport for London’s (TfL) finance and policy committee had on Friday (8 July) been due to rubber-stamp £3 million of London Underground spending on strengthening the station’s structure to withstand the weight of the Thomas Heatherwick-designed bridge on its roof.

But Sadiq Khan has now ordered the work – by engineer Flint & Neil, and approved by his predecessor Boris Johnson two months before May’s mayoral election – to be halted because of his commitment not to spend any more taxpayers’ money on the bridge.

A spokesperson for the mayor told the AJ: ‘The previous mayor first approved plans for enabling work to prepare Temple Tube station for the arrival of the Garden Bridge two years ago in the summer of 2014, but final authorisation was only provided in March this year, two months before the mayoral election.

‘This enabling work has since been suspended, and that will be reported to the Finance and Policy Committee today. Sadiq Khan has been clear that no new public funds should be committed to the Garden Bridge, and he has pledged to make the project more open and transparent – standards that were not always met under the previous administration.’

Speaking at the State of London debate last week, Khan confirmed he was still investigating the heavily criticised procurement of the Garden Bridge. ‘If it’s the case that the project becomes unfeasible, if it requires more…taxpayers’ money then I’m not prepared to provide more taxpayers’ money for it,’ he said.

The Lib Dem leader in the London Assembly, Caroline Pidgeon, wrote to the chairman of the TfL committee, John Armitt, earlier this week, raising concerns about the £3 million spend on Temple station (see letter attached). She said the mayor should also examine Johnson’s commitment to underwrite the bridge’s annual maintenance cost, estimated at £3.5 million.

‘The fact that this work to Temple station has been suspended at the 11th hour suggests that for too long TfL has not been in full control of public money it has been allocating to the Garden Bridge,’ Pidgeon said.

‘If the mayor is really serious about ensuring that no further public funds are allocated to the Garden Bridge, his next step must be to immediately rip up the maintenance guarantee decisions that Boris Johnson foolishly signed up to.

‘The lack of transparency over almost every aspect of the Garden Bridge cannot continue.’

The Garden Bridge Trust website claims that bridge construction will start this summer, with the project opening to the public in 2018.

However, even prior to the mayor’s announcement that he was halting the scheme, the strengthening of Temple Tube station had not been due to complete until December 2018, according to TfL documents seen by the AJ.

A spokeswoman for the Garden Bridge Trust claimed work on this and on the bridge would be ‘concurrent’, adding that the Garden Bridge project as a whole was progressing at ‘full steam’.

The Trust also insists that the £3millon needed for the work at Temple will be repaid under a costs agreement with London Underground and will be funded from the Trust’s ‘overall project costs’.

She said: ‘London Underground has completed initial work at Temple. Its work is now paused while the trust completes all required planning and land matters ahead of starting full construction.

‘This includes concluding land deals with Coin Street Community Builders and on the Northbank with Westminster City Council. It is hoped these will be concluded by the end of July.

‘The trust is also focusing on discharging the outstanding planning conditions in Lambeth and Westminster, discharging obligations within Section 106 agreements and finalising the sequencing of river works.

‘Once all planning and property matters have been resolved, the next phase of the London Underground work will commence. All works will be paid for by the trust. It is full steam ahead across the planning priorities and fundraising is also very active.’

Heatherwick Studio declined to comment.


Readers' comments (6)

  • Ah, the genius of plonking a heavy structure down on top of a shallow cut-and-cover underground line - especially if you can get muggins to pay for it (or so you thought).

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  • Mr Khan, this ungainly and pointless concoction procured through a highly suspect process must be cancelled. This was your position in the past and this is what you must deliver for Londoners.

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  • At last a vanity project bites the dust. It would be even better if the funds were diverted to help the needy.

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  • Refusing to approve further public funding at this stage is welcome news to those of us who are interested in how agencies raise funding and carry out procurement exercises using public money. However, should this logic not also apply to the remaining unspent public funds?

    While I welcomed the RIBA Councils decision to support the motion calling for a detailed and independent investigation into the procurement of the Garden Bridge project, I was disappointed that the original motion which called for the work to be halted until this enquiry had been completed, was not approved in full. While I understood many of my fellow Councillors were keen to avoid any perception of the RIBA taking sides, I was nonetheless disappointed not to have been given the opportunity to table an alternative motion.

    Instead of calling for the bridge to be halted, my suggestion was to suspend any further spending of the remaining public funding until TfL or the GBT could prove beyond question that the procurement process was legally compliant.

    Paul Finch is probably correct when he commented last week (on the previous AJ article concerning 4 separate enquires in to the Garden Bridge) that many people objecting to the procurement process are really people who simply object to the idea of a bridge. If the business case justifies it, planning consent is awarded and the majority think it's a good idea, then I suppose to many people, continued negativity might now sound a bit tiresome.

    However I am sure Paul Finch is not suggesting this justifies breaking the law? The story here cannot only be about the public hue and cry about whether or not the bridge is a good idea. I know that I am far from alone in believing the concern about procurement is a story which stands alone. Surely this is something that should be of interest to us all - not just opponents of a bridge across a river in London.

    These are serious allegations and if correct would amount to a manifest breach of the Public Contract (Amendment) Regulations 2009. The issue here is not just about whether or not the initial appointment should have gone to competition, it is about the overriding legal obligation to ensure all bidders were given equal opportunity and a fair and equal assessment of their bids.

    Under the Public Contract procurement rules the process must be transparent in order to ensure accountability - an obligation to the bidders but also to the public purse. The reason for this is to give people an opportunity to check the process was fair and equal and in accordance with the rules - and to raise an action should grounds arise. If authorities do not fully advise the unsuccessful bidders how their tenders have been assessed (or how the terms might have changed) how can the bidders then determine grounds to challenge an award and set in motion any process of accountability?

    The recent GLA Oversight Committee report into the TfL internal audit is damming to say the least, particularly TfL's lack of disclosure. However it also appears to have failed to consider key legal obligations as set out in the Public Contract Regulations. Indeed there appears to have been no consideration at all to the remedies that might apply should a manifest breach be discovered - other than asking TfL to consider "lessons to be learned". Remedies for breaking procurement law however, are not just about learning lessons and moving on.

    Since 2009 the legal remedies are no longer just about compensating unsuccessful bidders but also include terminating a contract where an award has already been made, as well as significant fines. It is important to note the intention of this legislation is that remedies are to be proportionate and dissuasive. While the legislation provides some defences to authorities against a contract being set aside where such a decision might be onerous, it is also important to note this specifically excludes grounds of cost.

    These remedies were specifically introduced in 2009 for good reason.

    Paul Finch mentions the bean-counter brigade, and dismisses their concerns with a suggestion as to how this project might be more affordable. While this sounds to me like a good idea, this is beside the point. It is important to bear in mind that accountability is not just about numbers and value for money. For those of us who have an interest in fair public contracts procurement accountability is about those responsible for spending public money being able to demonstrate compliance with the law and being held to account if they can not.

    While there may be significant consequences for the Garden Bridge project should it be discovered these allegations are correct, there would be even bigger implications if authorities were allowed to ignore or bend the rules and act with impunity. This is not just an issue for architects or people in London.

    It is also worth considering that authorities may wish to progress a project quickly and commit significant spend on the basis that there will be no 'going back' as no-one will want to waste further funding. Having moved quickly, and perhaps not having thought everything through, it is also not uncommon for other costs to emerge.

    By standing by his position and not approving further public funding I hope this indicates the Mayor will also true to his promise to fully investigate the procurement process. I trust that this will be a thorough, critical and unbiased investigation of events from the outset and that it will also consider appropriate remedies should these allegations be found to be correct.

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  • Beautiful but pointless.

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  • bear with me here, I may be wrong but....the views from high level and the Lambeth side (2 of 5 above) of the garden bridge give a skewed perspective and make it look like the bridge is symmetrical with a central large span. If you study the planning drawings and latest views this is not the case. The bridge is asymmetrical with the Westminster side river pier being very close to the river bank and the Lambeth side river pier being much further out into the river. This is because the navigable river channel is not centrally positioned and the span responds to the clear height requirements set by the PLA. This means that the heavy loading caused by the planting, soil and heavy structure is cantilevered more on the Westminster side of the bridge than the Lambeth side. Just based on the drawings it would suggest that the loads at the Westminster end, at Temple station, are acting to tip the arch into the river, meaning that the bridge needs to held down rather than propped up. The initial cost was for around £600k of strengthening to the roof, this has now gone up to £3m plus which would suggest that a more substantial and complex structural intervention is required - such as anchor piles to hold the end of the bridge down. Anchor piles are commonplace of course (as anyone who has built a basement car park would know) however putting in anchor piles is far more complicated when there is a tube line that is sensitive to ground movement to work around. If you look at view 1 of 5 above there is no obvious structure to tie the bridge down, apart from the lift shaft which appears fairly lightweight. if this theory is right then it would mean that rethink of how the bridge terminates in Westminster is required or a re-planning of the bridge deck itself to redistribute the load - i.e. the position of the planting, which worst case may require a new planning application and at least would explain the large increase in cost for the strengthening works.

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