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TfL official denies it acted as ‘cheerleader’ for failed Garden Bridge

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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.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Scoundrels responsible for profligate squandering of over £40m of public money fail to appear to explain why - what a surprise!

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  • Brown was very clear that TfL were following orders. Boris Johnson as mayor of London and head of TfL had instructed them, his officers, to deliver the bridge. TfL should not have been put in this duplicitous position - as guardians of the public funds and under orders to deliver it by spending those funds. Boris Johnson as Mayor has caused this conflict of interest either deliberately or through lack of thought and understanding. That said the GBT still chose to push on with signing the construction contract despite, as per their own minutes, the project being on the ropes at that point - it is they who risked and ultimately lost all of our money and they, not TfL, that should be held accountable for their decissions. The GBT had a choice, sit tight and see how things progress under Sadiq Kahn, or press on in full knowledge of the severe risk to the public purse and apply to drawdown further funding by signing the construction contract before it was sensible to do so. They chose to push on, to get the project over the line - this may be in accordance with their charitable aims, but in my view it's not an action in the spirit of wider public good - It was a blinkered and selfish decision that has cost London others bridges, has had the net effect of increasing air pollution and has left a sour taste that all of us effected by their decision to bear. Trustees by law must act responsibly, reasonably and honestly, take special care when investing or borrowing (£20m was meant to be a loan), comply with any restrictions on spending funds and they must ensure their charity is accountable.It is therefore shocking that Lord Davies refused to attend the GLA and equally so that the Charities Commission seem to have swept this decision under the carpet and have now put themselves in a position where their role and fitness for purpose is being brought into question. All in all the reputations of Johnson, Lumley and Davies et.al are suffering due to their actions on this project and now is the time that one of them would do well to apologise or at least publically express regret for the loss of the transport funds.

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