Transport for London (TfL) has cut the amount of cash promised towards Thomas Heatherwick’s controversial Garden Bridge project by £20 million
The reduction in public funding - effectively limiting TfL’s contribution to £10million - forms part of an agreement between Lambeth Council and the Garden Bridge Trust and paves the way for negotiations to restart over the Bridge’s south landing site in the borough.
The remaining £20 million will be loaned by TfL if it is required and ultimately paid back by the private sector or future revenues, the Trust said.
Earlier this year the plot on the south bank of the Thames needed for the bridge’s southern end was designated as a community asset by Lambeth Council - a move opponents of the 367m-long bridge claimed had dealt a ‘fatal blow’ to the timescale for the project.
In September, amid escalating criticism of the procurement of the project and concerns over the cost to the public purse, councillor Lib Peck, Lambeth council leader, had suspended the negotiations over this plot.
Peck said today: ‘I’m pleased that Londoners are getting a better financial deal particularly at a time of austerity when all public sector organisations are being forced to make deep cuts to services.
‘We’ve been in tough negotiations with the Garden Bridge Trust and Transport for London and I’m pleased we’ve successfully agreed a deal that will cut London taxpayers’ contribution towards the Garden Bridge by two thirds.”
The TfL money was originally pledged alongside an equal £30million from George Osborne’s Treasury in late 2013. The Trust says it will replace the withdrawn cash with funds from the private sector and would treat any monies already spent over the £10 million cap ‘as a loan’.
It is understood the bridge’s construction costs alone will hit £90million, with the overall budget nearer £175million.
Chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust, Mervyn Davies said: ‘We have been hugely successful in our efforts to raise funds from the private sector, with £85million pledged to date, and we have agreed that any of the committed funds from TfL spent over the £10 million will be treated as a loan. We are delighted the Garden Bridge can now progress and are grateful for all the support we’ve had.’
A Transport for London spokesperson, added: ‘The garden bridge will help make central London a more accessible and attractive place to walk, reducing congestion on public transport, improving the local environment and driving economic development.
‘The success of the Garden Bridge Trust’s fundraising work to date now means they are able to commit to paying back up to £20million of TfL’s £30m contribution over time once the bridge is built and operational. This means that TfL’s final contribution will be no more than £10m, and that a total of at least £135m will be secured from private sector.’
The Garden Bridge Trust hopes construction can begin in early 2016.
Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London
‘This is a much better deal for Londoners. We’ve been able to secure an agreement which will allow the Garden Bridge to proceed while saving up to £20 million of Londoners’ hard-earned money.
‘At a time when public services are straining under pressure from cuts and increased demand, Boris Johnson was wrong to commit to £30 million of London taxpayers money to this project.
‘But thanks to with this new deal, it looks like Londoners will get the best of both worlds – Lambeth Council and Lib Peck deserve great credit for their part in negotiating it.
This is a much better deal for Londoners
‘As this project progresses, I’ll be keeping a close eye on it to ensure that London’s tax and fare payers aren’t burdened and that all funds over £10 million are returned as agreed. We need to keep the Garden Bridge on track without costs rising - when I’m Mayor, there will be no question of a penny more than £10 million of TfL funds being spent on it.’
Will Jennings, anti-Garden Bridge campaigner
‘This is not a good deal for Londoners. Finance is not the only issue of this project - the heritage views would still be sacrificed, public space will still be lost to a private development and all on a project which isn’t in the slightest green or environmentally good for London.
‘Regarding money, the Garden Bridge Trust now have even more private funding to get and they still haven’t achieved their initial aims. This is a public/private partnership which already offers little for the public of London and, over time, will only creep towards further private benefit from public losses.’
Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group
‘While I welcome a reduction in Transport for London’s payment towards the Garden Bridge, today’s announcement simply raises more questions than it answers, especially in light of the continued evasiveness by the Mayor of London and TfL in answering Mayoral Questions, or responding to freedom of information requests.
‘Today’s announcement should not for one moment cloud the very dubious practices that have been adopted so far in awarding contracts and allocating significant amounts of public money.’