London’s mayor once called Boris Johnson’s cherished scheme a ‘white elephant’. Now he seems to have finally returned to this view
Well he’s finally done it hasn’t he? In withdrawing his backing from the Garden Bridge, Sadiq Khan has now gone full circle: from Garden Bridge opponent to supporter back to opponent. By withdrawing the vital financial guarantee behind the 366m-long bridge’s annual maintenance he’s also highly likely to turn out to be the opponent that finally killed off the scheme – it’s a position this canny and cautious mayor has certainly never wanted to be in.
Back in 2015 when he was running for office, Khan described Heatherwick and Lumley’s dream project as ‘another of Boris Johnson’s white elephant projects’ and expressed deep concern about the AJ’s findings on its procurement.
Immediately after his mayoral victory in May last year, he performed something of a U-turn and gave the project his backing, ostensibly thanks to a deal to convert £20 million of Transport for London’s contribution into a long-term loan – although observers also pointed to his need to foster relations with Garden Bridge cheerleader the London Evening Standard, whose owner Evgeny Lebedev was once described as the project’s ‘governor’.
Khan’s decision was purely about feasibility and value-for-money. It leaves open the question of what he will do about the rigged Transport for London contests
Even as he commissioned MP Margaret Hodge to conduct an independent review into the project, Khan still seemed utterly convinced by his argument that scrapping the bridge would cost more than carrying on, telling the Garden Bridge Trust in a letter in December: ‘The taxpayer will be better off if the bridge is built. As the agreements governing the public sector contribution are in the public domain, I do not see that Dame Margaret’s review could reach a different conclusion.’
Well three weeks ago she did reach a different conclusion, and even went as far as urging the mayor not to sign the guarantee, a condition of the planning permissions given by Lambeth and Westminster councils.
Her verdict left Khan little wriggle room, especially since he had long promised not to spend further public money on the scheme, now forecast to cost more than £200 million if built.
His decision today was purely about feasibility and value-for-money. It leaves open the question of what the mayor will do about the rigged Transport for London contests that led to the appointments of Heatherwick Studio and Arup and the spending of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on these consultants.
Myself and The Architects’ Journal have been calling for there to be true accountability on this cronyism and shady procurement for two-and-a-half years now, as I told LBC presenter James O’Brien on his radio show this morning. Hodge has concurred after six months of inquiry. The facts speak for themselves and it is high time for Sadiq Khan to act upon them.