Transport for London’s (TfL) head of corporate affairs has insisted the body was not under pressure to release £7 million to the Garden Bridge Trust
Appearing before the Garden Bridge Working Group at City Hall this afternoon (15 April), TfL’s Andy Brown denied his organisation had been a ’cheerleader’ for the failed project.
Brown had been a senior planning officer while the main body of work on the Garden Bridge was taking place in 2015/16.
London Assembly member and working group chair Tom Copley described him as the ’last man standing’ at TfL since the departure of other key figures involved in the controversial scheme.
Brown told the group he worked on the project but was a junior member of staff at the time, with then managing director of planning Richard de Cani responsible for making the final decision on whether the trust had satisfied the conditions for receiving a £7 million payment from TfL.
When asked about de Cani’s decision, he argued TfL had made a ’balanced assessment’ on whether the conditions to receive funding had been met.
That payment prompted the trust to sign a construction contract with Bouygues, which left it liable to pay the contractors about £21 million even after the project was cancelled.
Assembly members grilled Brown about whether the six conditions in its funding agreement with the trust had been satisfied when the decision was made.
Last year papers from the trust’s board meeting revealed that in December 2015 Brown had suggested that TfL was unconvinced that this was the case, but by the following month it appeared to have been reassured enough to release the money.
When asked this afternoon whether he had had any qualms about the trust’s ability to complete the project, Brown said: ’Not any more than I would have any project team that was delivering a project within TfL.
’They were very aware of the risks that they had ahead of them and the tasks that they needed to complete. We were satisfied that they had the resources and expertise in place to do that.’
Brown said TfL was satisfied that the trust would be ’able to secure’ all necessary consents for the project, including land from Coin Street Community Builders, and it considered the draft business plan a ’credible, achievable plan’ to secure a satisfactory level of funding.
He added that the trust had signed the construction contract before TfL signed off on the £7 million, saying this was effectively the seventh condition for receiving TfL funding.
But Copley was sceptical, saying it was ’inconceivable’ that the trust would have signed such a contract without a nod about additional funding from TfL.
Brown denied that TfL had tried to interpret the conditions in the most open way, describing it ’a balanced assessment’. He stressed that, once TfL was satisfied that the conditions were met, it was obligated to release the money to the trust.
Copley accused Brown of presenting a ’much rosier picture’ than that painted in contemporaneous documents, to which Brown responded: ’That’s your view. I can only tell you based on my experience of the discussions that were taking place at the time.’
Assembly member Caroline Pigeon suggested that the project had to be delivered ’at whatever cost’. But Brown said he had not felt any pressure to accede to the trust’s request for more money. ’It’s clear to me that when the Mayor has directed us to do something that’s what we needed to do.’
Brown added that TfL was now putting pressure on the trust to minimise its financial liabilities, saying ’we would expect every effort to be made with everyone seeking payment through underwriting to be minimised as far as humanly possible’.
He said that, although the contractors have to be paid for consultancy work that had already been undertaken and prefabrication of materials, the actual amount that has been paid so far is much smaller than £21 million.
Brown sat between three empty chairs, laid out to represent the three members of the Garden Bridge Trust who refused to appear at the hearing.
The hearing was the first of several by the Garden Bridge Working group as part of its inquiry into the procurement of the project’s design contract since September 2015. The next hearing is on 13 May.