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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)

  • An awful lot of the money went into the PR effort to persuade us we’d be getting a lush sylvan streak of peace and quietude across the Thames when, as someone better qualified than me pointed out, it was in reality a huge amount of concrete with a bit of bum fluff on the top, to be crammed with a commotion of tourists. It was rightly pulled when it became clear they were never going to sell enough t-shirts to “monetise” it and it would be a drain on public finances in perpetuity. It should have been pulled much earlier by the former mayor when it became obvious it was nothing but a supremely expensive PR fantasy.

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  • To continue as a successful city London needs TfL’s to spend effectively on its public services. For a quango with an annual budget which surpasses the GDP of many countries this is only a reasonable expectation of good governance.
    But the Garden Bridge and Crossrail both illustrate similar TfL issues. In both cases failure is evident and there should be proper scrutiny if issues are to be rectified for the future - which is the only way to ensure that the service quality is accountable, maintained and improved. Paul Finch doesn’t however appear to think so and instead suggests we should all just get over TfL ‘mistakes’, in Chris Grayling fashion. Try asking London public transport users who are entirely reliant on TfL working well!
    The Garden Bridge first highlighted what is now becoming increasingly apparent with CrossRail, namely that there are serious systemic issues with TfL management, governance and accountability.
    So what happens if inadequate and corrupted practices are allowed to continue? Where there is institutional failure our public services may be expected to decline further. This is why we should all petition for a public enquiry and accountability (notwithstanding the significant issues of professionalism and integrity). TfL directly paid out over £13m, and were responsible for authorisation of the residual of the £43m public money wasted on the Garden Bridge. Is this acceptable?
    Dead Horse it is not.

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  • Why keep "flogging" it Paul?
    Because there is still little transparency around yours and my money.

    And because the AJ, which you work for, continues to do excellent work investigating it and you should really be supporting that award winning journalism, if not for your ethics then at least for the support of your colleagues.

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  • Most of the funding (more than £100m) would have come from private donations; the trust managed to raise an additional £3m even in its last year of operations, despite the antis. Incidentally, how about an inquiry into why the mayor would not have a meeting to discuss the offer by a philanthropist to pay off most of the public investment in the project as a donation? I fear the headbangers don't know the half of it. For clarity, I had no connection to the trust or its fundraising, and did not attend any of its dinners or other fund-raising events. I do like ideas for London.

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  • I like ideas for London too.

    Then I like those ideas to follow democratic and legal procedures, be evidence by need, generate public support and prove they will not be an environmental, financial or aesthetic burden upon the future of the city I love and made my home.

    Nobody is opposed to ideas. But this wasn't an "idea", it was a top-down, aggressive theft of civic space and money to serve the financial uplift of a few property developers on both sides of the river who were represented on the board of the "charity". That's not a London I want to be a part of, and it's not an idea I support.

    But you know my views, and I know yours. I have never been opposed to people who liked it aesthetically, though they became increasingly thin on the ground. But I did get annoyed at people who threw around things like "it raised half its money privately" when even the Trust didn't know what the final estimated cost was, and that it would make its money back when they can't explain how other than they would have liked it to have charged ticket entry.

    Re the philanthropist, Sadiq had a telephone meeting with them.

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  • "Angry headbanging is a waste of time" - Paul Finch.

    Now imagine that this brave principle could be rolled out across public life. It's the prosecution's fault! If only those headbangers would just shut up and move on, we could even make it look as though no offence had been committed in the first place,

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  • The idea of bridge attracted massive public support, as evidenced by many independent opinion pools, but not from Mr Angry professionals who thought they could do a better job. The final estimated cost was known because a contract was let. Let'shear more details about the telephone call, and why the offer wasn't worth a meeting. The dead-horse flogging continues; meanwhile, the originators of the Rotherhithe Park bridge idea are excluded from involvement with the project. Once you start attacking ideas, there is little point in creative people trying to come up with them. That is the legacy of the bitter and unpleasant criticism of the garden bridge: the antis aren't really interested in the money or the procurement, they just want to attack people whose ideas are not identical to their own. See much of the above.

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  • Paul is right to say the 'idea' of the bridge attracted a lot of public support. When pollsters started including a lot more detail on what this idea would actually entail, support dropped markedly. Here's more on this: https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/opinion/what-do-polls-tell-us-about-support-for-the-garden-bridge/10003732.article?search=https%3a%2f%2fwww.architectsjournal.co.uk%2fsearcharticles%3fqsearch%3d1%26keywords%3dopinion+polls+garden+bridge

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  • 'Once you start attacking ideas, there is little point in creative people trying to come up with them'
    True, maybe, Mr Finch - but it does depend on what sort of 'creative' and in the case of the garden bridge there appeared to be some very creative interpretation of procurement procedures - and creative extension of the notion of public / private partnerships to cover a public pedestrian bridge that could be denied to the public at will.
    Warped creativity could give high profile design initiatives a bad name.

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  • The garden bridge was the will of the people, which was cruelly thwarted. It would have been strong and stable. It was red, white and blue. We could have driven herds of wild unicorns across it, and charged Chinese tourists to ride them. Paul is on your side.

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