The London Assembly has demanded that mayor Sadiq Khan releases transcripts of interviews given by individuals including Thomas Heatherwick and Joanna Lumley to Margaret Hodge MP about the Garden Bridge.
Earlier this week, the assembly’s budget and performance committee took the rare decision of issuing a summons notice to the mayor’s chief of staff, David Bellamy, demanding all documents relating to transcripts and audio files written or recorded during the review of the £200 million project conducted by MP Margaret Hodge.
Among those who gave evidence to Hodge were RIBA president Jane Duncan, Marks Barfield co-founders Julia Barfied and David Marks, founding director of Wilkinson Eyre Jim Eyre, former TfL commissioner Peter Hendy, executive director of the Garden Bridge Trust Bee Emmott and AJ managing editor Will Hurst.
The budget and performance committee is chaired by Conservative member Gareth Bacon, and the Tory group in the London Assembly has attacked the Hodge review, questioning why the former chair of the Public Accounts Committee was paid £9,500 despite the GLA initially saying she would work pro bono; and why she used her MP’s office in Westminster to conduct interviews on a GLA report.
However others have questioned why the party is focusing on this rather than the Garden Bridge debacle itself, which is likely to cost taxpayers at least £50 million.
In March 2016, the assembly’s oversight committee produced a highly critical report on the Garden Bridge procurement, but the Conservative group dissented, issuing a minority report that defended TfL and said the main report should have focused on the ‘difficulty of procurement when a project evolves significantly’.
Just over a fortnight ago, Tory member Andrew Boff clashed with Khan on the issue during an angry exchange during mayor’s question time.
Khan said that FOI (Freedom of Information) officers had advised against releasing transcripts and audio, and Boff asked whether the mayor had received this advice in the form of an email, note or verbally.
Khan then attacked the Garden Bridge and the oversight provided by the Tory group under Boris Johnson saying that Johnson had written a ‘blank cheque’ for the bridge.
‘It’s quite clear from Margaret Hodge’s report that corners were cut,’ he said. ‘For an assembly member who has been an assembly member since 2008 under [the former] mayor to lecture me on this … beggars belief.
‘Margaret Hodge’s report was damning … I know that Boris Johnson spent a lot of money on a vanity project.’
Commenting on the summons, assembly member Bacon said: ‘Freedom of Information requests and questions to the mayor at mayor’s question time have been dodged and, frankly, we’re tired of the obstruction.
‘The chief of staff needs to supply this information immediately, so we can assess it and decide how relevant it is to our scrutiny of the Margaret Hodge Garden Bridge review.
‘If the mayor really is as committed to transparency, as he continually says, he will ensure that he and the staff working for him do not seek to stand in the way of the assembly’s legitimate requests for important information.’
A spokesperson for the mayor said: ‘This is very disingenuous – no assembly member has ever submitted a Freedom of Information request asking for the transcripts or audio from the Garden Bridge review.
‘Had a Freedom of Information request been submitted, GLA officers would, of course, have responded to the request in accordance with the law.’
The summons is the first issued by the assembly under the Khan mayoralty, and David Bellamy is now understood to have until August 2 to comply.
The AJ’s own Garden Bridge investigation has relied on more than 25 FOI requests.