London mayor Sadiq Khan today signalled the likely death of the Garden Bridge by refusing to provide Boris Johnson’s long-promised mayoral guarantee for its operation and maintenance costs.
More from: Sadiq Khan pulls plug on Garden Bridge
The financial guarantee, which would underwrite the estimated £3m annual cost of the bridge’s upkeep, must be in place before construction commences, given that it is a requirement of the Port of London Authority (PLA) and a condition of the planning approvals from both Lambeth and Westminster councils.
But three weeks to the day since Margaret Hodge delivered her damning independent report on the £200m project’s procurement and value-for-money, Khan today wrote to the chair of the Garden Bridge Trust, Mervyn Davies, to say that continuation of the scheme would expose the London taxpayer to additional and unacceptable financial risk.
Two weeks ago the Garden Bridge Trust hit back at Dame Margaret Hodge’s claim that the award of the construction contract for the £185m project to a JV between Bouygues and Cimolai SpA was “risky and premature”.
Trust chairman Lord Davies wrote to Dame Margaret to register concerns over a number of alleged “inaccuracies” in her review of the controversial Thomas Heatherwick-designed bridge over the Thames.
The decision, revealed by Construction News’ sister title The Architects’ Journal, will almost certainly sound the death knell for Thomas Heatherwick and Joanna Lumley’s highly controversial scheme, which has been the subject of an investigation by the AJ since December 2014.
In his letter, Mr Khan wrote: “Under the previous mayor, a considerable amount of London taxpayers’ money has already been spent on the Garden Bridge. I have always been clear that not a penny more of taxpayers’ money should be allocated to the project.
“Having assessed all the information available to me including the findings of Margaret Hodge’s independent review, my view is that providing mayoral guarantees will expose the London taxpayer to too much additional financial risk.
“With planning permission due to expire this year, many outstanding issues remain, including spiralling construction costs and doubts around funding the maintenance of the bridge.
“The funding gap is now at over £70m and it appears unlikely that the trust will succeed in raising the private funds required for the project. I am simply not prepared to risk a situation where the taxpayer has to step in and contribute significant additional amounts to ensure the project is completed.”
The Hodge report said the taxpayer was already exposed to £46m of costs even if the project was now cancelled. But in his letter, Mr Khan outlined further risks to the London taxpayer if it continues due to factors including:
- the increasing capital costs of the project;
- the risk of the bridge only being partially built; and
- doubts over the establishment of an endowment fund to help meet future maintenance costs.
The letter pointed out that the Garden Bridge Trust’s funding gap had widened since early 2015 to more than £70 million due to the withdrawal of private sector pledges and also criticised the Trust’s failure to strike a land deal with Coin Street Community Builders over a three year period of negotiation.
It is now theoretically open to the Garden Bridge Trust to seek to amend the PLA’s requirement and the planning conditions from the local authorities.
Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley, a prominent critic of the project who has repeatedly questioned TfL, Sadiq Khan and Boris Johnson about the scheme, called the mayor’s announcement “excellent” and paid tribute to the AJ’s two-and-a-half year-long investigation.
“How this project got as far as it has done is beyond belief,” he said. “From the flawed procurement process, to allegations of conflict of interest, to extremely poor value for money, the Garden Bridge project has been disastrous every step of the way.
“Millions of pounds of public money has been wasted on what is essentially Boris Johnson’s vanity project, despite a range of objections from a number of London Assembly Members.
“I am absolutely delighted that Mayor Khan is putting an end to this piece of Johnsonian indulgence and placing the interests of Londoners and taxpayers first.
“I’d also like to pay tribute to campaigners from the local community around the South Bank who have fought tirelessly against this bridge, and to the investigative journalism of the Architects’ Journal.”
Michael Regan, head of construction & engineering at law firm Mayer Brown said: “Clearly, the risks of commencing construction in the absence of certainty around long-term funding are substantial for a project that might be regarded by some as frivolous, in that it is non-essential infrastructure.”
Lord Mervyn Davies, the Garden Bridge Trust’s chairman, 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 of London has taken a different decision to those in place when the project started.”