Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s decision today to withdraw his backing for the controversial Garden Bridge feels like the death knell for the £185m project.
More from: Sadiq Khan pulls plug on Garden Bridge
Finding a backer with deep enough pockets to underwrite the operation and maintenance costs of the scheme – which were estimated to run up to £3m per year – would be a monumental task for the Garden Bridge Trust.
Meanwhile, construction on the bridge, which is to be built by a joint venture between Bouygues and Cimolai SpA, needs to begin before the end of the year, otherwise planning approval for the scheme will cease.
Lambeth and Westminster councils approved the decision to build the bridge between the South Bank and Temple on the north shore of the Thames, but a planning stipulation included in the consent for the scheme was that the Trust find a way to underwrite the bridge’s operation and maintenance costs.
The Port of London also approved the project under similar conditions.
London’s former mayor Boris Johnson had promised to guarantee underwriting these costs but left office before the paperwork had been finalised.
His successor Sadiq Khan has, following an independent review conducted by Dame Margaret Hodge into the costs of the bridge on the taxpayer, chosen not to.
Mr Khan underlined three main reasons why he felt the project exposed taxpayer’s to “additional financial risk”, which were the increasing capital costs, the risk of the bridge only being partially built; and doubts over the establishment of an endowment fund to help meet future maintainence costs.
The mayor also stated that he would not provide any mayoral guarantees unless he was convinced that the project would not lead to additional public expenditure down the line. These costs are now the responsibility of the Trust.
In response to Mr Khan’s decision, the Garden Bridge Trust said that it would be considering the details of Mr Khan’s message “in detail”.
Garden Bridge Trust chairman Lord Mervyn Davies said: “We received the mayor’s letter with great regret today. We will study the contents of the letter in detail before responding formally.
“The Garden Bridge Trust was set up at the request of Transport for London and the Department of Transport to deliver the project, which had received public money.
“We have had enormous support from our funders and are very confident we can raise the remaining funds required. But sadly the mayor has taken a different decision to those in place when the project started.”
So, though the Bridge itself is not sunk as a project, the Trust has around six months to both find the remaining cash to build the project, and organise the construction schedule so that building work can start.
Those are tough tasks, and may see the Bridge as a viable project now left as a footnote in London’s history.
Has Khan sunk the Garden Bridge once and for all?