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Treasury slams Garden Bridge business case

Garden bridge  winter
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The original justification for the Garden Bridge rested on ‘significant uncertainties’ and is likely to be weaker today than it was back in 2014, HM Treasury has said

Following a request by the chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Meg Hillier MP, the Treasury completed a 13-page analysis of the business case, which the committee has now published.

The Thomas Heatherwick-designed project is dependent on £60 million of public money, and the Garden Bridge Trust, the project’s developer, recently admitted the scheme could ‘substantially’ exceed its revised budget of £185 million.

The analysis of the business case, sent to the PAC by the Treasury’s permanent secretary, Tom Scholar, concludes: ‘The business case presented in 2014 was finely balanced and subject to an unusually high level of uncertainty, and could have been strengthened in several respects.

‘Our analysis shows that the value for money case for the project rests above all on the potential business and property impact, where there are significant uncertainties.’

The analysis noted that the bridge had still to raise significant private funding and secure planning consents on the South Bank. It also pointed out that the central government contribution was supposed to be capped at £8.2 million for pre-construction costs, but that this exposure had now risen to £22.5 million following a direct instruction from ministers.

‘This suggests that the overall case for the project is weaker today than it was in 2014,’ the analysis added.

The AJ understands that the Treaury’s analysis has also been sent to MP Margaret Hodge, who is carrying out an inquiry for London mayor Sadiq Khan into the bridge’s procurement and value-for-money.

Back in October, Hillier warned that the Garden Bridge could become another ‘Kids Company fiasco’ following the release of a damning report by the National Audit Office (NAO), which examined the Department for Transport’s (DfT’s) decision to provide £30 million of grant funding to the project.

The NAO found that this sum was provided following a commitment from then chancellor George Osborne and despite the DfT’s conclusion that there was ‘a significant risk that the bridge could represent poor value for money’.

The TfL, which drew up the business case, has been contacted for comment.

In a separate development, London Assembly members from all political parties yesterday (Wednesday) backed a motion by 16 votes to 1 calling on the mayor not to sign a guarantee to meet the maintenance cost of the Garden Bridge should private fundraising prove insufficient.

’The Garden Bridge … is a quintesentially British kind of corruption’

Planning permission for the bridge is dependent on Khan signing the guarantee, which was drawn up by his predecessor Boris Johnson.

The motion was tabled by Labour members Florence Eshalomi and Tom Copley, with Copley hitting out at the ‘cocktail-party cronyism’ behind the bridge’s procurement.

‘The Garden Bridge … is a quintesentially British kind of corruption,’ he said. ‘I don’t mean that in the sense of bribery or backhanders or personal enrichment, but a kind of cocktail-party cronyism. You got the sense that a group of people got together – journalists, politicians, people in the media, some designers; you might call them the Establishment – and they decided this would be a nice thing to have. Let’s put a garden on a bridge.

‘Nice to have is not a justification, I think, for spending £40 million. And incidentally, can anyone see a bridge? We’re told that £40 million has been spent, but can anyone see a bridge?

‘What’s important now is that we don’t throw good money after bad.’

The only assembly member at the meeting who did not support the motion was Tory Gareth Bacon. He does not back the scheme, but argued that if Khan now wanted the Garden Bridge project to fail he should say so publicly.

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