London’s former deputy mayor for transport under Boris Johnson told Margaret Hodge that she and her colleagues thought the Garden Bridge was ‘a crazy idea that would never happen’
Newly released transcripts of the interview with Isabel Dedring, now global transport leader at Garden Bridge engineer Arup, also reveal clashes with Hodge over the extent of the deputy mayor’s role.
The interview took place with Hodge last November as part of the Labour MP’s six-month inquiry into the £200 million project, and the transcript has been released alongside dozens of others by the GLA following pressure from Conservative members of the London Assembly, who were critical of the report.
In the 40-page transcript, Dedring – who was criticised by Hodge in her subsequent report for suggesting she was barely involved with the Garden Bridge – says at least 12 times that she cannot remember specific details sought by the MP.
She also claimed she was not involved either in transport procurement or planning and says she was ‘bedazzled’ when she met Joanna Lumley.
Speaking of the Garden Bridge plan, Dedring told Hodge that Johnson’s former economic adviser Anthony Browne had been involved in pushing the idea.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Browne left City Hall in December 2011 – five months before Lumley first wrote to Johnson about her Garden Bridge plan.
‘We all thought it was a crazy idea and was never going to happen,’ Dedring said. ‘So I do remember, poor Anthony; always mocking him about this and he was like “No, no, it’s going to happen” and we’re “it’s never going to happen, dude.”’
She later admitted that she didn’t think the current scheme would be delivered, asking Hodge whether the interview would be on ‘public record’ before saying it was ‘very difficult to see how the bridge is going to happen’ due to the planning and maintenance issues and lack of capital.
During the interview, Hodge becomes increasingly incredulous and frustrated as Dedring denies being involved in the Garden Bridge procurement.
Dedring had at least five meetings with Thomas Heatherwick and Joanna Lumley prior to the contest, including the infamous trip to see Apple in San Francisco with Johnson and Heatherwick. Separate internal TfL correspondence from January 2013 said she would brief Lumley and Heatherwick on a ‘proposed way forward’.
She told Hodge she had no involvement with the business case for the bridge and said on its procurement: ‘I wouldn’t know how to procure anything if my life depended on it. I’ve never procured anything. I don’t know what you do.’
Hodge responded: ‘But by the time you were procuring, you knew you were procuring a Garden Bridge, didn’t you?’
The MP pressed Dedring on who had pushed for the appointment of Heatherwick and Arup, and Dedring replied: ‘I didn’t know Arup from a hole in the wall so I wouldn’t care whether they won it or didn’t win it or whatever … City Hall wouldn’t care who designed the bridge.’
Hodge replied: ‘But somebody did. Somebody did.’
When Hodge pointed out that Arup had earned between £8 million and £9 million from the contract by April 2015, Dedring replied: ‘No, I know, but in the grand scheme of TfL’s budget, which is £10 billion a year, it’s quite small. I agree with you but I’m just saying, that’s a fact.’
On the subject of the alleged conflict-of-interest over both her and former TfL head of planning Richard de Cani going to work for Arup, Dedring told Hodge this was ‘disconcerting for me personally but, it’s also bad for us corporately.’
She added that Arup has a £1billion turnover, saying: ‘The idea that somehow they would waste this extraordinary amount of money on me and Richard in exchange for what for them is a very small contract is absurd, apart from anything else.’
Hodge also pressed Dedring on what constraints should have been placed on the Garden Bridge Trust in terms of pre-construction spending. She asked who would have scrutinised this in order to protect the public purse.
Dedring replied: ‘Nobody really’, prompting Hodge to reply: ‘Jesus.’