Trust chairman challenges Labour MP’s recommendation that project be scrapped

The trust responsible for overseeing construction of the Garden Bridge in London has hit back at Margaret Hodge MP’s highly critical report on the project calling for it to be scrapped.

In a letter to Hodge, the Labour MP and former government minister commissioned by London mayor Sadiq Khan to review the scheme, the Garden Bridge Trust’s chairman Mervyn Davies levels accusations of inaccuracies, questions the validity of some of her conclusions, and accuses her of discourtesy.

Davies – himself a former Labour MP, ex-trade minister and now life Labour peer – wrote that the trust had engaged with communities on the South Bank of the river who would be affected by the bridge’s construction.

Davies also highlighted a survey that had found “over three quarters of Londoners support the bridge being built”, which he claimed Hodge ignored, along with the views of the bridge’s supporters and pledged donors.

Referring to the construction contract, Davies wrote that this had been explained to Hodge during a meeting between her and the trust, and that the document signed with Bouygues “allowed the contractor to engage a larger workforce to ensure all planning conditions were met in the timescale”. He also said the business plan was a live document and “I am unclear as to why this is not acknowledged in your report”.

Davies said the trust “cannot accept [Hodge’s] recommendation” that the project be scrapped, adding that, “as the mayor has said consistently, ‘the taxpayer will be better off if the bridge is built’”.

He wrote that he believed her conclusion that the project be axed was “based almost entirely on your own opinion and the word of others who have expressed a view, rather than on the word of those with technical expertise in this field”.

Davies’ letter concluded with a swipe at Hodge, saying he found her approach to the report’s publication “discourteous”.

“I understand that some interested parties, including journalists, had early insight into publication, while those with responsibility for delivery of the project were not offered the same courtesy.

“This put the trust in a position by which we were unable to provide timely briefing of our funders and key stakeholders.”

Davies ended his letter saying: “For someone with your extensive experience in the public sphere, I find the lack of respect and disregard for the impact of your findings unacceptable.”

In response, Margaret Hodge said in a statement: “I have written, published and submitted my report to the mayor of London. Clearly people will want to comment on the report and I did not expect the Garden Bridge Trust to support the conclusions I came to.

“I conducted an extensive inquiry and the conclusions I reached are grounded in that evidence. 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, and 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.  

“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. It is now up to the mayor of London to take a view.”