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Sadiq Khan pulls plug on Garden Bridge

London Mayor Sadiq Khan

London mayor Sadiq Khan today signalled the likely death of the Garden Bridge by refusing to provide Boris Johnson’s long-promised mayoral guarantee for its operation and maintenance costs

The financial guarantee, which would underwrite the estimated £3 million annual cost of the bridge’s upkeep, must be in place before construction commences, given that it is a requirement of the Port of London Authority (PLA) and a condition of the planning approvals from both Lambeth and Westminster councils.

But three weeks to the day since Margaret Hodge delivered her damning independent report on the £200 million project’s procurement and value-for-money, Khan today wrote to the chair of the Garden Bridge Trust, Mervyn Davies (see file attached), to say that continuation of the scheme would expose the London taxpayer to additional and unacceptable financial risk.

The decision will almost certainly sound the death knell for Thomas Heatherwick and Joanna Lumley’s highly controversial scheme, which has been the subject of an investigation by the AJ since December 2014.

Khan said: ‘Under the previous mayor, a considerable amount of London taxpayers’ money has already been spent on the Garden Bridge. I have always been clear that not a penny more of taxpayers’ money should be allocated to the project.

My view is that providing mayoral guarantees will expose the London taxpayer to too much additional financial risk

‘Having assessed all the information available to me including the findings of Margaret Hodge’s independent review, my view is that providing mayoral guarantees will expose the London taxpayer to too much additional financial risk.

‘With planning permission due to expire this year, many outstanding issues remain, including spiralling construction costs and doubts around funding the maintenance of the bridge.

‘The funding gap is now at over £70 million and it appears unlikely that the trust will succeed in raising the private funds required for the project. I am simply not prepared to risk a situation where the taxpayer has to step in and contribute significant additional amounts to ensure the project is completed.’

The Hodge report said that the taxpayer was already exposed to £46 million of costs even if the project were now cancelled. But in his letter, Khan outlined further risks to the London taxpayer if it continued, due to factors including:

  • The increasing capital costs of the project;
  • The risk of the bridge only being partially built; and
  • Doubts over the establishment of an endowment fund to help meet future maintenance costs.

The letter pointed out that the Garden Bridge Trust’s funding gap had widened since early 2015 to more than £70 million due to the withdrawal of private sector pledges and also criticised the trust’s failure to strike a land deal with Coin Street Community Builders over a three-year period of negotiation.

It is now theoretically open to the Garden Bridge Trust to seek to amend the PLA’s requirement and the planning conditions from the local authorities.

Tust chairman Mervyn Davies said: ‘We received the mayor’s letter with great regret today. We will study the contents of the letter in detail before responding formally.

‘The Garden Bridge Trust was set up at the request of Transport for London and the Department of Transport to deliver the project which had received public money. We have had enormous support from our funders and are very confident we can raise the remaining funds required. But sadly the mayor of London has taken a different decision to those in place when the project started.’

It will be held up for many years as a case study on wasting public money and poor decision-making

Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley, a prominent critic of the project who has repeatedly questioned TfL, Sadiq Khan and Boris Johnson about the scheme, called the mayor’s announcement ‘excellent’ and paid tribute to the AJ’s two-and-a-half year long investigation.

‘How this project got as far as it has done is beyond belief,’ he said. ’From the flawed procurement process, to allegations of conflict of interest, to extremely poor value for money, the Garden Bridge project has been disastrous every step of the way.

‘Millions of pounds of public money has been wasted on what is essentially Boris Johnson’s vanity project, despite a range of objections from a number of London Assembly members.

‘I am absolutely delighted that mayor Khan is putting an end to this piece of Johnsonian indulgence and placing the interests of Londoners and taxpayers first.

‘I’d also like to pay tribute to campaigners from the local community around the South Bank who have fought tirelessly against this bridge, and to the investigative journalism of The Architects’ Journal.’

Liberal Democrat London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, another long-standing critic of the bridge, said Khan had ‘finally done the right thing’, while expressing regret that it had taken him a year to make the decision, ‘and while he has been dithering, more money has been wasted’.

She added that the project would ‘be held up for many years as a case study on wasting public money and poor decision-making at both government and mayoral level’.

The Garden Bridge Trust has been approached for comment.

More to follow…


Readers' comments (8)

  • Not a moment too late. The most absurd flower pot ever is finally gone from the horizon. Time to get legal with the perpetrators !

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  • London can't make it.

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  • Time to start thinking about some useful infrastructure for London........

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  • Not before time. It was a vanity project at the expense of Londoners.
    It would have made a mess of the South Bank, destroyed numerous established trees, taken pleasurable space from ordinary people already enjoying it. All so a few people could fluff their breast feathers and joined by people in the government who thought it might be nice to do the same. Good riddance. There will be thousands of people heaving a sigh of relief.

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  • For Paul Finch - don't despair, if it's as wonderful an idea as some claim then surely a knight in shining armour will appear and offer to make up the shortfall in finance.
    But it would be worth checking the selfless benefactor's source of income - and wouldn't it be nice if the designers produced more images to show how the bridge really would look, to people rather than passing drones?
    The one image that I've seen from a pedestrian's viewpoint (other than actually on the bridge) - suggests that at the landfalls it's a clumsy dysfunctional lump, and the elegance of the bridge itself is far from obvious, as viewed from the banks of the river it's surely likely to be a very hefty structure indeed.

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  • PS - I wonder whether there'll be sparkling editorial comment in the Evening Standard - or whether, like the Rt. Hon. and usually voluble Boris, the ex- Rt. Hon. George will keep shtum?

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  • Pierre Luigi Nervi inspired design in wrong place at wrong time, is it really good riddance?
    As one of the best cities in the world we really need to be careful that we don't destroy the amazing vistas along either embankment. Happy to see change, but change for change sake is a mistake.

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  • The letter Londoners won’t be getting from the Garden Bridge Trust:

    ‘Although we greatly regret the Mayor will not permit more public money to be spent on the construction of the Garden Bridge and refuses to commit funds for its upkeep, we must finally and with deep regret accept that our confidence in the project is not shared by potential donors or the public.

    We tried hard to get Londoners to embrace the city’s need for a sophisticated folly with a nickel-plated underbelly that would, if nothing else, be a wonderfully green environment for a crafty cigarette or a romantic assignation and well worth paying for even if it meant cutting down an avenue of beautiful plane trees on the South Bank and foregoing much loved views towards St. Paul’s Cathedral. We even bent a few boring rules on your behalf, and after all our efforts we were sure you wouldn’t mind if we occasionally closed the bridge to use it for our private parties.

    We spent and committed £46 million of your money on designers, engineers, lawyers, construction companies and others, and some great publicity for our good friend Boris’ favourite designer, before we realised that we had got it wrong and can't actually show you anything that looks remotely like a bridge, other than a nice model and marketing material.

    We had hoped to carry on spending your money - for your own good of course - but now, sadly, our trustees will have to find something else to spend their time on.

    We must in good conscience apologise for the public funds we have already spent on this project with nothing to show for it. We let our enthusiasm get the better of us, and it has led us down crooked and sometimes darkly wooded paths to a dead end. In compensation, after the pledged funds we are sure to receive have been used to repay TFL, we intend to bend our efforts and what money remains to improve the environment not just in a fashionable part of London but in less amusing areas that are in genuine need. We are prepared to listen and help.’

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