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
‘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.