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Transport minister rubbishes calls for Garden Bridge inquiry


A transport minister has ridiculed complaints made about the Garden Bridge during an extraordinary Commons debate on the failed project last week

Responding to an adjournment debate on Friday led by London MP Rupa Huq, who called for a major inquiry into the £43 million of taxpayers’ money lost on the Heatherwick-designed ‘fiasco’, Andrew Jones MP accused Huq of seeing a ‘lavish amount of conspiracy’.

In her speech on the Garden Bridge, Huq had pointed to the extensive evidence of cronyism and rigged procurement uncovered by the AJ’s four-year-long investigation but Jones responded: ‘We must make sure we don’t lose perspective.’

The minister (pictured top) said: ‘I wrote down things [during Huq’s speech] like “rigged processes” and “mates’ rates”. These are quite strong accusations.’

Responding to the accusations of cronyism, the minister wrongly stated that the chair of the Garden Bridge Trust, Mervyn Davies, is a Labour peer. While he did serve as a minister in the last Labour government, Davies is not affiliated with any party in the House of Lords.

‘I just don’t see this as some chummy, closed group thing. I don’t think the facts are remotely like that,’ Jones said.

The minister went on to say that he recognised the Garden Bridge ‘had always divided opinion’ but added that it was a project which could have ‘added a significant extra dimension to our already magnificent capital city’.

He said that the £30 million for the project from central government came with conditions including a cap of £8 million on the amount of government money which could be spent on pre-construction activity.

Garden bridge underbridge viewp

Garden bridge underbridge viewp

‘This was designed to limit the amount of taxpayer exposure in the event that the project did not proceed,’ Jones said, without explaining how the cap had been so severely breached.

He also referred to the conditions of the funding agreement between the Garden Bridge Trust and Transport for London, several of which the AJ has shown to have been broken, and the government’s consistent instructions to the Trust that ‘it should not just be public money at risk should the project fail’.

Jones said he recognised the ‘concerns’ of Huq and others but insisted that there was no need for any new inquiry into the Garden Bridge because of previous inquiries such as the NAO and London Assembly reports in 2016 and the Charity Commission and Margaret Hodge reports of 2017.

He concluded: ‘It is unfortunate that public money had been spent without the project coming to fruition but, despite the best efforts, some projects do not reach their potential.

Despite the best efforts, some projects do not reach their potential

‘Of course, this department will continue to scrutinise funding decisions, making sure we continue to deliver value for taxpayers. That is a regular part of what we do. That has certainly will not be compromised, has not been compromised on this project and will be part of all our future project management.’

The response made by Jones is in contrast to that of culture minister Mims Davies. Earlier this month, she expressed doubts about the Charity Commission’s inquiries into the failed scheme and indicated a willingness to listen further to Garden Bridge critics.

During her speech, Huq said that ‘many of the so-called great and good’ were implicated in the Garden Bridge debacle and pointed out that its financial cost is far higher other better-known scandals, such as the Expenses scandal and Cash for Honours.

She praised the AJ’s investigation but said ‘you will never see anything about it’ in other parts of the media, singling out the Evening Standard, which is edited by former chancellor George Osborne, and the BBC Today programme, edited by former Evening Standard editor and Garden Bridge cheerleader Sarah Sands.


Readers' comments (26)

  • Why keep flogging a dead horse? The real scandal was a political decision to kill the project, thereby wasting large amounts of taxpayer money, since we have nothing to show for it. That is the Mayor's legacy -- London can't make it. Far more worrying currently is what happened with Crossrail -- and thus the decision of TfL to sell its magnificent heritage building.

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  • We want to "flog a dead horse" to get out money back. Or at least bring the villains to account.
    Scandalous scam to cheat the public funds of millions. Where are the private investors now ?

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  • Paul, I want my tax money back and be spent in a rational way.
    This whole project was a scam from start to end, and we cannot conceivably let the culprits get away with it. Enough is enough.

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  • I'm not unsympathetic to Paul Finch's 'dead horse' point. Those of us that opposed the project are going to have to decide what is that we want from this prolonged autopsy -- and Boris Johnson's head on a pike seems a bit unrealistic.

    Personally, I'm willing to call it a day if and when someone (anyone) at TFL or the Garden Bridge Trust offers up a fulsome, bullshit-free and preferably contrite explanation of why they awarded a £100 million contract in February 2016, when the Trust still hadn't secured the land, planning or nearly enough money to complete the project. I'd settle for an explanation of why they didn't trigger the contract's break-clause in April 2016, when they were bleeding fees and going backwards on the land, planning and money.

    For all the flogging, it's quite extraordinary that that still hasn't happened. The horse isn't quite dead yet.

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  • Sure thing Paul... 'Nothing to see here, move along now'.

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  • A junior government minister who is either trying to sweep some serious questions under the carpet or is just plain thick (or maybe both) - but, in any case, comes across as another example of the dismally poor quality of some of our elected representatives - chief among whom is the ex London Mayor / garden bridge promoter, ex Foreign secretary, full-time chancer and buffoon and putative Prime Minister Boris Johnson (a member of the same political party as Andrew Jones).
    And the TfL commissioner who presided over some very dubious 'commissioning' - and who is yet to explain exactly what went on, and at whose instruction - sails on? Time to man the bilge pumps.

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  • The way to get the money back was to build the bridge and monetise what would have been one of the most popular tourist attractions in London. There would have been huge profit generation over the next few decades, the money used to help with projects like Crossrail 2, in addition to repair and maintenance of the bridge. Angry headbanging is a waste of time, and as I repeat, money has only been wasted because we got nothing for it. We should have built it. C'est tout.

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  • See above for total conjecture. Money was wasted because it should not have been spent on this project.

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  • Paul Finch highlights a view shared by many politicians and people in high society who see a wider picture of progress but perhaps not the detail. I do understand this view, however, I know that if I had applied for £7m of funding from TfL based on a simple friendly letter with lots of conjecture and warm words about meeting conditions that were never met it would have been rightly and immediately refused. The GBT did it in January 2016 and it was waved through and ultimately led to a further £22m loss of public transport money - the entire cost of the millennium bridge. We either have a fair and open society or we don't - unless due diligence is applied to all projects we simply don't. When serious failings in protocol and process are exposed they must be resolved properly and publically, without this happening we are not and cant claim to be an open and fair society.

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  • A vision of Paul Finch getting detained by 'security' for trying to cross a largely publicly funded footbridge (deemed part of London's essential transport infrastructure) over the Thames in the centre of our capital city at a time when it was closed for a private junket.
    A possibly unlikely scenario if - as a stout apologist for the bridge - he was to become a 'regular' at such events. With Boris, George, Thomas and all.

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