Labour’s mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan is claiming credit for a deal which will see Transport for London’s contribution to the controversial Garden Bridge project slashed by two-thirds.
The bridge, which is backed by actress Joanna Lumley, was to be supported with £30m of TfL funds despite initial promises by Mayor Boris Johnson that no taxpayer money would be spent on it.
Mr Johnson has also committed TfL to underwrite the bridge’s maintenance costs in perpetuity should the Trust backing it be unable to raise enough money from corporate lets and hospitality to pay the bills.
Over the past year a series of revelations about the bridge and restrictions on its use, including a ban on cycling the playing of games, have caused politicians from all City Hall opposition parties to question its receipt of public funds.
London Assembly members have previously revealed that Londoners will have no right of access to the bridge despite bankrolling its building costs and that the entire bridge will be closed at night to enable it to hired out for corporate events.
And AMs have also raised concerns about the procurement process run by TfL and it’s lack of compliance with best practice.
In September Lambeth council pulled out of negotiations over the land required for the Bridge, a move which threatened to derail the project.
However today council leader Lib Peck announced that “tough negotiations with the Garden Bridge Trust and Transport for London” had resulted in a new deal which would allow the project to go ahead but with less public funding.
Lord Davies, chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust, said: “We have been hugely successful in our efforts to raise funds from the private sector, with £85 million pledged to date, and we have agreed that any of the committed funds from TfL spent over the £10 million will be treated as a loan.
“We are delighted the Garden Bridge can now progress and are grateful for all the support we’ve had.”
Mr Khan commented: “This is a much better deal for Londoners. We’ve been able to secure an agreement which will allow the Garden Bridge to proceed while saving up to £20 million of Londoners’ hard-earned money.
”At a time when public services are straining under pressure from cuts and increased demand, Boris Johnson was wrong to commit to £30 million of London taxpayers money to this project.
”But thanks to with this new deal, it looks like Londoners will get the best of both worlds – Lambeth Council and Lib Peck deserve great credit for their part in negotiating it.”
The mayoral hopeful added: “As this project progresses, I’ll be keeping a close eye on it to ensure that London’s tax and fare payers aren’t burdened and that all funds over £10 million are returned as agreed.
“We need to keep the Garden Bridge on track without costs rising – when I’m Mayor, there will be no question of a penny more than £10 million of TfL funds being spent on it.”
Commenting on the deal, Caroline Pidgeon AM, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the London Assembly said: “While I welcome a reduction in Transport for London’s payment towards the Garden Bridge, today’s announcement simply raises more questions than it answers, especially in light of the continued evasiveness by the Mayor of London and TfL in answering Mayoral Questions, or responding to freedom of information requests.
“Most importantly the Mayor and TfL still need to come clean as to how key contracts have already been awarded. Only last week TfL’s director of audit finally conceded that the Garden Bridge procurement was ‘neither open nor objective’. These are serious issues which are far from being resolved.
“Today’s announcement should not for one moment cloud the very dubious practices that have been adopted so far in awarding contracts and allocating significant amounts of public money.”