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MPs to probe Garden Bridge funding

The chair of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has called on the National Audit Office to investigate the Treasury’s £30 million contribution to the Garden Bridge

In a letter to Labour MP Gareth Thomas (see attached), committee chair Meg Hillier wrote: “I have requested that the NAO looks into the DfT’s rationale for contributing towards the Garden Bridge and inquires how the DfT maintains oversight of its £30m funding for the Garden Bridge.

“They will report to me any concerns which may arise from their inquiries.’

The letter was a response to Mr Thomas, who had written to Ms Hillier to highlight Transport for London’s ongoing review of the procurement process behind the bridge and question the Treasury’s own £30m contribution to the project.

TfL’s own inquiry was announced in June following a series of investigative stories by Construction News’ sister title the Architects’ Journal.

In December 2013, the government announced grant funding for the Thomas Heatherwick-designed link as part of its National Infrastructure Plan, which would be added to contributions from private investors and another £30m from Transport for London (TfL).

A spokesman for the public accounts committee said Ms Hillier had raised the issue as part of regular correspondence with the NAO.

He said: “In this case, she has asked the NAO to make inquiries of the Department for Transport as to the rationale for awarding the £30m grant and what oversight arrangements it has in place to ensure the money is properly spent.

“If these initial inquires generate any concerns, the NAO or the PAC may consider launching a wider investigation resulting in a public report.”

He added that the committee had no remit to investigate the £30m pledged to the project by TfL.

Meanwhile, the London Assembly is planning to hear evidence relating to concerns over the procurement of the project, first raised by the Architects’ Journal following a series of requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).

An AJ investigation found that at £173,000, competition winner Thomas Heatherwick’s initial fee estimate was more than three times that of Wilkinson Eyre’s £49,939 and more than 11 times Marks Barfield’s £15,125.

Other correspondence unearthed by the AJ under FOI included an exchange between chancellor George Osborne and London Mayor Boris Johnson in which Mr Johnson said he had serious misgivings about the cost to the taxpayer of constructing and maintaining the bridge.

However Mr Osborne, who described the project as “iconic”, encouraged Mr Johnson to make TfL’s £30m contribution a grant rather than a loan, and said the mayor should underwrite maintenance costs if private support could not be found, describing it as a “small funding requirement”.

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