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GARDEN BRIDGE

The Hodge transcripts: what we know so far

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The AJ is busy combing through the extensive transcripts of the 24 interviews Margaret Hodge conducted for her Garden Bridge inquiry. Here’s a need-to-know summary of what has emerged so far

Johnson wanted Heatherwick and the pressure on TfL was ‘absolutely enormous’ 

One of the most revealing interviews Hodge conducted was with Peter Hendy, former TfL commissioner. Hendy – now chair of Network Rail – comes closer to anyone in Boris Johnson’s administration or TfL ever has in acknowledging the contests were rigged, the key contention of the AJ’s long-running investigation.

Having earlier in the interview denied this was the case, Hendy went on to tell Hodge: ‘Was it pretty clear that what the Mayor wanted to do was to ask Thomas Heatherwick to build a Garden Bridge? Yes, it was. It was pretty clear, actually. Were the people around him utterly persistent in driving this thing forward? Yes, they were actually … they were all over this to get it done.’

Where’s the bloody Garden Bridge?

Boris Johnson

Hendy also told Hodge that Johnson would ring up every night ‘wobbling home on his bike, saying “where’s the bloody Garden Bridge?”’ and claimed he tried to remind the former mayor of his duty to the public. He said: ‘I’m pretty sure I remember saying to [Johnson] at one point: “You can’t just treat this as though it’s your own money. We’ve got to have some element of process in here”.’

Hendy also said that pressure from the Mayor’s office came via deputy mayor for transport Isabel Dedring, who was ‘on our backs every day’. Hodge replied: ‘She said it was entirely you and not her’, prompting Hendy to say: ‘Well, that’s fascinating.’

Architects say design competition ‘smelt wrong from the beginning’ 

Both Marks Barfield and WilkinsonEyre, the practices which went up against Heatherwick Studio in TfL’s invited contest, sensed something suspect about it from the outset.

Jim Eyre told Margaret Hodge he thought the ‘terrific speed’ of the competition was ‘unusual’. 

Both firms also had to sign up to confidentially clauses. 

TfL is a very important client for us and you don’t go around criticising your clients in public

David Marks, Marks Barfield

Alarm bells began ringing at Marks Barfield when the practice was encouraged by a ‘persistent’ Richard de Cani at TfL to enter. The firm became increasingly uncomfortable as a series of revelations emerged which, as David Marks put it, showed that the competition ‘uncontrovertibly … didn’t follow due process’. 

However, even though their names were being bandied around by Boris Johnson and TfL commissioner Mike Brown to show the contest was fair and open, neither felt able to speak out. Marks said: ‘TfL is a very important client for us and you don’t go around criticising your clients in public.’ Marks added that he later had a ‘very odd conversation’ with the TfL internal auditors, in which they implied he should not talk to the press.

Julia Barfield said it had felt ‘a bit like bullying’, adding: ‘People were saying, “Oh, it [the tender process] must have been fair because [the architects] haven’t complained”.’ 

The Garden Bridge Trust unsuccessfully wooed US business giants Google and Bloomberg as well as Apple

Speaking to Hodge last November, Sarah Sands, then editor of the Evening Standard, revealed unexpectedly detailed knowledge of the Garden Bridge, telling Hodge: ‘People wanted to pay for the bridge, you know, people like Google.’ Sands added that, at the time of the meeting, the tech company no longer wanted to make a donation, which she believed was the result of ‘hostility’ to the project. 

She also revealed that media giant Bloomberg had been interested in following in the footsteps of Sky to sponsor the bridge, but had wished to give money anonymously. Sands said: ‘I said, “if you’ve come to that – that you’d need to do it anonymously because you’re frightened of the, you know, publicity – that’s bad isn’t it?’

We call it the Apple Bridge and you pay for it, chum

Edward Lister, former deputy mayor for planning

The following month, London’s former deputy mayor for planning Edward Lister told Hodge about the secret trip he and Boris Johnson took to San Francisco to discuss the bridge with Apple, saying the former mayor had felt there was a ‘fair chance that Apple might actually sponsor the whole bridge’. Lister went on to say that Apple had ‘an interest if they could build a retail store on the bridge’, but added this was ‘not going to be acceptable’.

He added: ‘Basically it was this […] we call it the Apple Bridge and you pay for it, chum. And that was a pretty good idea but it all came to naught.’ Lister also said that it was a ‘mistake’ not to bring Joanna Lumley along with them, who, he said, could have ‘worked her wonder’.

The Garden Bridge’s transport benefits were even shakier than thought

The Garden Bridge Trust and TfL always insisted that the bridge would bring significant transport benefits to the capital and TfL included detailed explanation of this in its much-criticised business case. 

However, TfL commissioner Mike Brown told Hodge in December: ‘If I’m being honest, from a TfL perspective it’s not overtly a transport imperative’ and added that the Garden Bridge would not feature in his top 100 list of transport priorities for the capital. 

I don’t think we ever believed there was a transport case for this bridge; for a bridge, by all means

Paul Morrell, Garden Bridge Trust

These comments don’t tally with Brown’s previous public statements. On 17 December 2015 at a meeting also attended by Johnson, Brown told the GLA’s Oversight Committee that he was ‘convinced that there is a very valid, legitimate transport imperative around this project’.

Lib Dem Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon replied caustically: ‘I will leave that on the record. We can debate that.’ 

In 2015, the Trust released a press statement boasting of 10 major transport benefits the Garden Bridge would deliver. However, in his interview with Hodge, the deputy chair of the Trust, Paul Morrell said: ‘I don’t think we ever believed there was a transport case for this bridge; for a bridge, by all means.’

Panel discussion

On Friday 6 October at 8.30-9.30am, New London Architecture is hosting a free panel discussion entitled ‘After the Garden Bridge – the future for innovative infrastructure’. Speakers include the AJ’s Will Hurst and Iain Tuckett of Coin Street Community Builders. Click here to find out more.

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