Mayor of London Sadiq Khan today published Dame Margaret Hodge’s report into the procurement of the controversial Garden Bridge.
Opponents of the bridge have long criticised what they see as its adverse impact on views of the river, while others have questioned why the project was awarded to Heatherwick Studio despite it having less experience in designing bridges than rival bidders.
Although intended to be mainly funded by private donations, the Garden Bridge has benefited from £60m of City Hall and central Government funding, in addition to a guarantee issued by former Mayor Boris Johnson to underwrite its maintenance costs in perpetuity.
Despite being critical of the project before his election as Mayor, Mr Khan has since refused to pull City Hall’s support for the bride arguing that scrapping it would cost the taxpayer more than allowing it proceed.
The tender process has already been reviewed by the London Assembly, with a separate internal audit having been carried out by TfL.
However following his election last May, Mr Khan asked Dame Margaret to undertake a further review into whether the project offered value for money and to examine the policies and procedures and the conduct of those involved.
In the report Hodge claims that “decisions on the Garden Bridge were driven more by electoral cycles than value for taxpayers’ money”.
The report also asserts that “there was not an open, fair and competitive process around the two TfL procurements for the Garden Bridge Project. The two procurements revealed systemic failures and ineffective control systems at many levels.”
Dame Margaret said: “I did not seek to ask whether the concept of a garden bridge over the River Thames is a good idea. But my review has found that too many things went wrong in the development and implementation of the Garden Bridge Project.
“Value for money for the taxpayer has not been secured. It would be better for the taxpayer to accept the financial loss of cancelling the project than to risk the potential uncertain additional costs to the public purse if the project proceeds.
“In the present climate, with continuing pressures on public spending, it is difficult to justify further public investment in the Garden Bridge.
“I would urge the Mayor not to sign any guarantees until it is confirmed that the private capital and revenue monies have been secured by the Garden Bridge Trust.
“My report outlines some key lessons that can be learned from the Garden Bridge project across different public organisations and makes a number of recommendations.
“I thank the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, for giving me the opportunity to examine the project in detail.”
Critics of the project have welcomed today’s report.
Labour London Assembly Member Tom Copley AM, said: “This is a thorough damnation of what has to be the worst of Boris Johnson’s vanity projects.
“Given today’s report quite clearly states that it would be better to cancel the project than to risk the potential uncertain additional cost to the taxpayer, this must surely be the final nail in the coffin for the Garden Bridge.
“The Mayor was right to call for a review and to apply to some transparency to every part of this project, from the flawed procurement process to the question of whether value for money has been achieved.
“We have long questioned Boris Johnson’s decision to fritter away TfL funds on a project that won’t actually deliver any real transport benefits.
“It’s also apparent that if TfL’s internal processes had been properly applied many of the problems that have plagued this development could have been picked up early on. We’re left with a situation in which too much taxpayers money has already been plunged into a project whose financially viability has so frequently been questioned.
“Even if the Garden Bridge Trust raise the necessary funds for completion, it’s highly questionable they’d raise the revenue needed to meet the maintenance costs.
“We cannot leave Londoners exposed to the risk of having to pick up the bill. We said this was a development on the verge of collapse, now it’s time to sink it. The Mayor must now refuse to sign the maintenance guarantee and dispel the looming threat of more public funds being squandered on this thing once and for all.”
Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member, said: “This is a totally damning report.
“It is a disgrace that key decisions on the Garden Bridge were driven by electoral cycles rather than any concern for value for money. The report also backs up the long standing finding of the London Assembly that the procurement processes were not open, fair or competitive.
“Dame Margaret Hodge is crystal clear when she states that the Mayor should not sign any taxpayer funded guarantees until it is confirmed that the private capital money to build the bridge has been secured by the Garden Bridge Trust.
“This is the final nail in the coffin of the Garden Bridge. The Mayor should put us out of our misery and pull the plug on this project.”
Conservative London Assembly member, Andrew Boff, said: “Personally I have long opposed the Garden Bridge but the angle of criticism over the process is wildly off the mark.
“It’s entirely wrong to say the advancement of the project was politically motivated at the taxpayers’ expense. I am not at all surprised however to see that a review commissioned by a Labour Mayor and conducted by a Labour MP has made these spurious conclusions.
“This is a kangaroo court judgement that lacks transparency and bases its verdicts on draft reports of the internal audit, not the final conclusions.”
VINDICATION FOR LONDON ASSEMBLY
However, Len Duvall, leader of the London Assembly Labour Group, has accused his Conservative counterparts of “looking to undermine today’s findings and attack the rigour of the report,” adding that they “clearly do not understand that Margaret Hodge is amongst the most experienced and respected scrutineers we have.”
Mr Duvall also used his intervention to highlight the Assembly’s past scrutiny of the bridge project, commenting: “With today’s report raining down condemnation on the Garden Bridge project, the London Assembly can only feel vindicated for the many, many concerns we’ve raised.
“It was only under the intense scrutiny of the London Assembly’s Oversight Committee that TfL first admitted that flaws in the procurement process meant it lacked the openness and transparency required.
“It was the Assembly who lifted the veil of secrecy surrounding Boris Johnson’s fundraising trip to San Francisco, where he happened to be joined by Thomas Heatherwick, the architect behind the eventual winning bid.
“Since then it has been the Assembly, in the knowledge that this project was neither a suitable use of TfL funds, value for money, or financially viable, who has kept pressure on Mayor Khan not to sign the maintenance agreement. Today’s report has recognised and endorsed many of our concerns.
“TfL must learn the lessons of their mistake in not properly implementing their own procedures. I will be calling them back to the GLA Oversight Committee, when I shortly take up the Chairmanship, to ensure those mistakes are never repeated again.
A TfL Spokesperson said: “We welcome Dame Margaret Hodge’s independent review of the Garden Bridge project. We will review it in detail and ensure that the recommendations relevant to TfL are addressed.”
Mr Khan’s office said: “The Mayor has been absolutely clear that he will not spend any more of London taxpayers’ funds on the Garden Bridge. It is the Garden Bridge Trust that remains responsible for raising the necessary funds, and delivering the project.”