A row has broken out over a London Assembly report into Transport for London and City Hall’s handling of the Garden Bridge tender process.
Assembly Members have spent months quizzing Mayor Boris Johnson and his officials about the decision to award Heatherwick Studio the £60,000 contract to design a new bridge linking Temple to South Bank.
During the course of their investigation AMs heard that Heatherwick was awarded the contract despite having less experience of designing bridges than other bidders.
The committee also questioned Mr Johnson over his and officials’ dealings with the studio after it emerged that they met five times to discuss the concept of a Garden Bridge prior to procurement beginning.
A report published on Thursday claims there were “a series of procedural errors in the procurement process” and says the Mayor “should have been more upfront” about his contacts with Heatherwick.
It also criticises an audit of the procurement process commissioned by TfL, saying it “failed to address the original objective”.
Committee chair Len Duvall said: “This whole process was badly handled from start to finish. TfL started work without a clear idea of the extent of its eventual involvement, which led to confusion among staff and managers in the early stages of the project. The Mayor’s Private Office was less than honest about where he was, what he was doing there and why.
“In fact, the situation probably appeared worse than it actually was – due to the secretive and defensive nature of various responses from TfL and the Mayor.
“Also, because there was confusion about the purpose of the bridge, the two other companies tendered for a pedestrian bridge contract. This was unfair – only Heatherwick Studio was fully aware of the desire for a ‘Garden Bridge’.
“What should be a great tourist attraction, has been tainted by the dodgy design procurement process. Whether the Garden Bridge can overcome its controversial beginnings, will remain to be seen.”
However Conservatives on the committee have failed to back its findings and accuse other parties of wanting to take a final swipe at Mr Johnson as his mayoralty draws to a close.
Group leader Gareth Bacon said: “It is a great shame that the other groups insisted upon a piece of work that is so flawed and so nakedly political.
“The London Assembly has a strong reputation for producing thoughtful, well-reasoned reports and this is neither.
“The reality is that TfL does have lessons to learn from this process, but these are likely to be obscured because the report has been hijacked by those who should know better.”
A spokesperson for the Mayor said: “An audit of Transport for London’s procurement process found that it was open, fair and transparent.
“The Mayor believes the Garden Bridge will be a spectacular new addition to London, and building is due to begin this year on a project that is widely supported by Londoners and businesses on both sides of the river.”