Transport for London (TfL) finally obtained minutes of the Garden Bridge Trust’s meetings on 28 February. Almost a month on, they remain private
Amid ongoing efforts by the charity to wind itself up following the collapse of the £200 million scheme, critics have rounded on TfL for failing to make public the minutes of its board meetings.
TfL obtained the records – understood to number around 200 pages – on the last day of February. This followed a long legal tussle with the trust, which had originally refused to hand them over despite the fact that TfL is its public-sector sponsor.
At the time, a TfL spokesperson said: ‘The Garden Bridge Trust has now supplied us with copies of the minutes of their board meetings, as we requested. These included some redactions. We are in the process of confirming these redactions are indeed appropriate.’
Architect and procurement reform campaigner Walter Menteth said architects would be ‘gobsmacked’ by the continuing lack of clarity over the estimated £46.4 million spent on the aborted Heatherwick Studio-designed project.
‘Despite expending roughly £50 million on the Garden Bridge it’s frankly extraordinary that there is still little public accounting of how this sum has gone,’ he said. ‘Malpractice and bad governance must be addressed, and the trust and TfL must come clean to ensure that practices can be better directed in future.
‘All practising architects must be gobsmacked as they scrupulously try to account for every penny spent delivering housing and other needs for Londoners on every other project.’
Tom Copley, the Labour member of the London Assembly who originally called on TfL to produce the records, said there was no excuse for such a delay and questioned whether it had ‘something to hide’.
He said: ‘It took months for TfL to extract the minutes from the Garden Bridge Trust, despite the fact it ought to have kept its own record of them anyway,’ he said.
’The delay in publishing them simply adds to the impression that there is something to hide.
‘At every turn, those involved in this project have sought to deflect legitimate scrutiny and attention. Enough is enough. The public bankrolled this project and its high time we see the decisions the trustees made when they were spending millions of pounds of taxpayer cash.’
Dan Anderson, a tourist attractions expert at consultant Fourth Street who has closely followed the Garden Bridge saga, said TfL’s actions continued a pattern of ‘ducking questions, concealing information and avoiding responsibility’.
He said: ‘TfL has shown no real interest in trying to figure out what went wrong with this project – possibly because so much of what went wrong is down to a failure of oversight. These minutes need to be published so that they can get into the hands of people outside TfL that have a genuine interest in finding out what really happened with the Garden Bridge.’
As of today (Monday), the Garden Bridge Trust is 54 days’ overdue in filing its accounts to the Charities Commission. Lib Dem assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, deputy chair of the assembly’s transport committee, drew a parallel between this and the minutes remaining private.
‘If lessons are to be learnt about how so much money was spent on a failed project we need to get all the information into the public domain as quickly as possible,’ she said.
‘After stalling by the Garden Bridge Trust in passing on key documentation, it is disappointing that TfL are now being so slow in allowing proper public access to these important documents.’
Other figures who have called for the publication of the minutes include former Tory transport minister and London mayoral candidate Steven Norris and Lib Dem leader Vince Cable, who has also called for an investigation to be carried out into TfL commissioner Mike Brown with regard to Garden Bridge spending decisions.
London mayor Sadiq Khan has also said the release of the minutes is important for ‘public confidence’.
Today, a spokesperson for the mayor said: ‘TfL is reviewing the minutes of the Garden Bridge board meetings to ensure that any redactions by the trust are appropriate.
‘As soon as this is complete, TfL will provide them to the GLA Oversight Committee, as well as publishing them on their website to ensure full transparency.’