The Garden Bridge’s cost to the taxpayer could spiral by tens of millions of pounds because of inadequate oversight by the public sector, MP Kate Hoey has warned
While construction of the £185 million scheme has yet to begin, about £40 million of the £60 million committed by the public sector is understood to have already been spent by the organisation developing the project, the Garden Bridge Trust.
Labour MP for Vauxhall Kate Hoey – a critic of the Garden Bridge – has joined two Lambeth councillors in writing to London mayor Sadiq Khan, voicing ‘alarm’ over what they call the ‘lack of appropriate controls and governance arrangements’ exercised by Transport for London (TfL).
In the letter, dated 5 March, Hoey and Labour councillors Jen Mosley and Kevin Craig wrote: ‘We all welcome Margaret Hodge’s review into the value-for-money case of the Garden Bridge project and we also welcome your cautious approach to committing to the project.
‘However, we are concerned that [the] review is focused on past failures, and will not take into account significant financial risks which could expose the taxpayer to increased costs in the future to support the project.’
The letter claimed that documents showed TfL’s board had had little oversight of the project in the past, and questioned whether it would in the future. It expressed particular concern that the trust has pledged to begin construction despite a budget shortfall of at least £55 million.
‘There is nothing in the board papers acknowledging the strategic risks of this project moving forwards, despite the fact that all projects with an estimated cost of over £50 million should undergo integrated assurance reviews with additional input from the Independent Investment Programme Advisory Group,’ the letter stated.
‘[TfL commissioner] Mike Brown this week confirmed in questions from GLA representatives that the normal scrutiny has not been applied to the Garden Bridge Project by TfL. This may be because of the fact that the delivery of the project has become the responsibility of the Garden Bridge Trust. Nevertheless, it remains a TfL project, and TfL remains its largest funder.’
Speaking on BBC Radio London’s Vanessa Feltz show last week, the trust’s executive director Bee Emmott said: ‘We’re hoping to start construction as soon as we’ve concluded our land deals on both sides [of the river] … As with any infrastructure project delivered by a charity, we don’t have to have every penny in the bank when we begin construction.’
However, the release of TfL’s remaining funding for the project depends on the trust satisfying TfL that it ‘has secured, or is able to secure, a sufficient level of funding’ to cover its construction.
TfL board member Michael Liebreich told the AJ that he would expect the board’s finance committee to be given the opportunity to examine whether these conditions had been satisfactorily met if and when the trust requests the release of these funds for the construction phase.
He added: ‘I have indeed been concerned about any possible impact to TfL’s budget if construction of the Garden Bridge commences before sufficient funds are raised to complete it. I raised the issue at one of the last TfL board meetings chaired by Boris Johnson, in December 2015, and have also discussed it with TfL management and incoming board members.’
Londoners will be astonished to realise that TfL doesn’t have any control over spiralling costs
Michael Ball, chair of Thames Central Open Spaces (TCOS), a London-wide campaign against the Garden Bridge said: ‘The Garden Bridge is an inherently risky project with a very high price tag.
‘Londoners will be astonished to realise that TfL doesn’t have any control over spiralling costs or the risks to public funds if construction begins before the £55 million funding gap is filled.
‘TfL is the single biggest spender of public money in the country. Is it any wonder, when such basic risks are not flagged up? The Garden Bridge Trust accounts published last month reveal they are not a going concern, despite having received £40 million of public funding. This money has been frittered away without a spade in the ground.
‘At the very least the mayor must insist that no spade goes in the ground unless and until the trust has all the £185 million they need in the bank.’
A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: ‘The Mayor has been clear that he supports construction of the Garden Bridge, subject to no new public funds being required. It is for the Garden Bridge Trust to reach agreement with landowners and raise the necessary funds in order that the project can continue without requiring further money from London taxpayers.’