Potential Garden Bridge donors were urged to reconsider yesterday by MP Kate Hoey, who tore into the £185m project in the Commons and praised the AJ’s investigation
Leading an adjournment debate on what she called a ‘folly’ yesterday evening (7 September), Vauxhall MP Hoey attacked the project on multiple grounds and praised the AJ’s investigation into the scheme’s procurement, which has relied on more than 20 FOI requests.
However, transport minister Andrew Jones defended the ‘iconic’ bridge and even claimed that its procurement had been found to be satisfactory despite the London Assembly’s highly critical report.
Hoey, whose Vauxhall constituency takes in the south landing of the proposed 367m-long structure across the Thames, said there was now ‘huge unease’ at the Department for Transport, Lambeth Council and other bodies over the project but that nobody wanted to be blamed for its collapse.
I pay tribute to journalists like Will Hurst of the Architects’ Journal
‘I would appeal to all those potential donors to really examine whether this project is one they want to be associated with,’ she said. ‘I do believe the reputation of many of them will be damaged by their support for this folly.
‘As the critique of the business plan states, the Garden Bridge has to be loved as much by the public as by its creators or the model fails. Given how unpopular it is and how much has been exposed by FOI requests, I have to say that if I was a trustee of a body thinking of donating to the Garden Bridge Trust, I would think again.’
The Garden Bridge
Hoey praised campaigners, London Assembly politicians and journalists for ‘shining a light’ on the project.
‘All the information I’m using tonight has been dragged out of public bodies using FOI requests and I pay tribute to journalists like Will Hurst of the Architects’ Journal, Peter Walker from the Guardian, Theo Usherwood of LBC and Hannah Barnes of Newsnight.’
£26m of public money has been paid with absolutely no accountability over how it has been spent
Hoey claimed that the charitable model used to develop and deliver the Garden Bridge set a ‘dangerous’ national precedent which should be noted by all MPs.
‘It allows public bodies to effectively offshore major infrastructure projects by leveraging charitable vehicles under the oversight of the Charity Commission to avoid the [greater] transparency and oversight reserved for governmental bodies via the National Audit Office (NAO). Since July 2015, £26,720,292 [worth of public money] has been paid to the Garden Bridge Trust with absolutely no accountability over how it has been spent and no visibility of the accounts.’
Hoey said most of this had been paid to engineer and lead consultant Arup and contractor Bouygues, and said the trust had a perverse incentive to spend as much public money as possible on pre-construction activities in order to take the project beyond a point of no return.
Both officers directly involved with the entire process have now left City Hall and been employed by Garden Bridge engineer Arup
The MP accused both project champion Joanna Lumley and the Garden Bridge Trust of treating genuine objections to the project with disdain, and drew a distinction between the trust’s behaviour and that of those behind the fully privately-funded London Eye including architect creators David Marks and Julia Barfield. Ironically, their firm Marks Barfield, lost out to Heatherwick Studio in the bridge contest, alongside Wilkinson Eyre.
Turning to this TfL competition and the one in which Arup was later selected as engineering designer, Hoey said there was a ‘real question mark’ over the whole process but that the NAO did not have the power to properly investigate.
Former deputy mayor for transport Isabel Dedring
She also questioned the actions of the former senior TfL official who - acting alone - scored the design contest, Richard De Cani, along with those of former deputy mayor for transport Isabel Dedring.
’Both of the officers directly involved with the entire process have now left City Hall and been employed by Garden Bridge engineer and lead consultant Arup,’ she said.
’It could be coincidence of course but most fair-minded people would say it is very strange.’
The government continues its support for the project and indeed wishes it well
Hoey was supported by both Labour and Tory MPs, but the minister and London Labour MP Stephen Pound defended the scheme, with Pound calling it a ‘marvellous’ project in the tradition of older inhabited Thames bridges which would bring tourists flocking to the capital.
Jones said the government was unwilling to put forward further public money towards the project and acknowledged some of Hoey’s concerns.
However, he said it retained government support, calling it ‘iconic’ and ‘novel’.
‘The government continues its support for the project and indeed wishes it well,’ he said. ‘But it has made clear to the trust that it is not just public money which should be at risk should the project fail’.
When contacted by the AJ, a spokesperson for the Garden Bridge Trust said: ‘The project has wide support from the government, the mayor, Lambeth and Westminster Councils, global companies, charitable trusts and philanthropic individuals. The trust has raised £69 million from the private sector so far with strong interest in the pipeline.
’We are confident that we will meet our funding targets and that the bridge will bring huge benefits to London.’
A spokesperson for Arup said: ’There is no link between the employment of Richard or Isabel at Arup and their former roles. We have provided evidence to show this on many occasions and will be contacting Kate Hoey MP to clarify a number of factual inaccuracies in her statement.’