Mervyn Davies, chair of the Garden Bridge Trust, has slammed the findings of Margaret Hodge’s report into the procurement of the Garden Bridge and its value for money
In a letter to Hodge, Davies claims that there are a ‘number of inaccuracies’ in the report; it is reliant on the ’selective use of evidence’; and that the manner in which it was published was ‘discourteous’.
Davies was responding to the findings of Hodge’s 45-page report, published last week, which recommended that the mayor of London should cancel the Garden Bridge and accept that £46 million of public money has been lost.
The predicted cost of the Thomas Heatherwick-designed scheme – originally budgeted at £60 million – has now ballooned to more than £200 million.
In his letter, Davies refutes Hodge’s finding that the trust did not properly engage with the local community over the project, claiming a letter he wrote in December 2016 – which he says Hodge ‘chose to ignore’ – set out the trust’s ‘many and varied’ community engagement activities. He also claims the trust consulted local communities on ‘more than 50 occasions’, but that Hodge did not ask about this when they met.
Opening the letter, he writes: ‘I am writing to clarify a number of inaccuracies in your review of the Garden Bridge, published on 7 April 2017, and to query the validity of some of your conclusions, particularly where based substantially on your personal opinion or judgement and relying only on selective use of evidence.’
Davies, a member of the House of Lords and former Labour government minister, went on to argue that the methodology used to compile the report was unbalanced, and Hodge mostly engaged with the project’s critics.
’You did not meet with any of the project’s supporters nor did you meet with any of the project’s funders’
’You did not meet with any of the project’s supporters nor did you meet with any of the project’s funders who plainly support the project,’ Davies writes.
He later adds: ‘A report of this type would typically set out the reasons for selecting the people you have consulted. This is absent from your report and it is clear from your published list that you have engaged with a very selective – largely opponent – audience.’
Moreover, Davies argues that the manner in which Hodge published the report was ‘discourteous, particularly as the trust was a willing participant in your review’.
He argues that, while some journalists were given ‘early insight into publication’ of the report, the trust was not warned of its publication.
‘This put the trust in a position by which we were unable to provide timely briefing of our funders and key stakeholders,’ he writes, adding that he finds Hodge’s ‘disregard for the impact of your findings unacceptable’.
Earlier in his letter, Davies criticises Hodge’s concerns over finding donors for the scheme, claiming that the announcement of the report in August 2016 ’had a direct impact on fundraising activity’.
In her report, Hodge noted that the trust had lost two major private donors and had pledges of £69 million, with no new pledges secured since August 2016.
Davies argues that the trust ‘cannot approach funders when we are coping with the uncertainties created by third party delays, including your own review’.
He also says that Hodge fails to provide any evidence that the choice of trustees led to a lack of confidence in the trust. He describes Hodge’s view that Brexit’s impact on the exchange rate as a likely contributor to the increase in the project’s cost as ‘incorrect and irrelevant’.
Last week, in an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, Davies said Hodge’s report was ‘full of errors’ and ‘very one-sided’.
Responding to Davies’s letter, Hodge said she ‘did not expect the Garden Bridge Trust to support the conclusions I came to’.
She added: ‘I conducted an extensive inquiry, and the conclusions I reached are grounded in that evidence. My review has found that too many things went wrong in the development and implementation of the Garden Bridge Project.
‘Value for money for the taxpayer has not been secured, and it would be better for the taxpayer to accept the financial loss of cancelling the project than to risk the potential uncertain additional costs to the public purse if the project proceeds.
’My report outlines some key lessons that can be learned from the Garden Bridge project across different public organisations and makes a number of recommendations.’
Hodge added that it was ‘now up to the mayor of London to take a view’.
Following the finding’s of Hodge’s report, a Heatherwick Studio spokesperson said: ‘We still believe in the immense public value the Garden Bridge will bring to London, and hope to see its mission to create an open-to-all public amenity on the river completed.
‘From the outset we have pursued our role as designers with professionalism, and we reasonably relied on the professionalism of public officials to ensure proper process was followed.’
Following the AJ’s long-running investigation into Transport for London’s procurement of the bridge scheme’s procurement, Hodge, a former chair of the Public Accounts Committee, also concluded that the appointments of Heatherwick Studio and engineer Arup in 2013 ‘were not open, fair or competitive … and revealed systematic failures and ineffective control systems at many levels’.