City Hall-commissioned review trashes London project

Margaret Hodge has slammed the Garden Bridge project as representing poor value for money in a report that could be the final nail in the coffin for the controversial multi-million pound project.

Hodge, who was charged by London mayor Sadiq Khan to assess the viability of the Garden Bridge, said in her report that decisions on the Garden Bridge “were driven by electoral cycles rather than value for money”.

She added: “From its inception when there was confusion as to its purpose, through a weak business case that was constructed after contracts had been let and money had been spent, little regard has been had to value for money.”

The original ambition to fund the Garden Bridge solely through private finance had been abandoned, her report went on. She added: “The goalposts have moved several times and each time the risks to the taxpayer have intensified.

“Looking to the future, the costs of construction have escalated and are likely to increase further. What started life as a project costing an estimated £60m is likely to end up costing over £200m.

“At the same time the Garden Bridge Trust has lost two major donors and has only secured £69 million in private funding pledges, leaving a gap of at least £70 million that needs to be raised for the capital investment. No new pledges have been obtained since August 2016.”

Hodge said with ongoing risks and uncertainties associated with the capital costs Khan should not sign any guarantees “until it is confirmed that the private capital money to build the bridge has been secured by the Garden Bridge Trust”.

She said she was sceptical that the Garden Bridge Trust would succeed in raising the private capital monies required and was “firmly of the view that more public money will be needed to complete the construction”.

The project has already used £37.4m of public money and the agreement to underwrite cancellation costs by the government could bring the bill to the taxpayer up to £46.4m.

“I believe it is better for the taxpayer to accept the loss than to risk the additional demands 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.”

The Garden Bridge Trust chair Lord Mervyn Davis said, “We are pleased that Dame Margaret has finally published her report after six months of uncertainty.  We will be studying the report in detail and seeking a meeting with the Mayor of London to discuss next steps.  The Trust remains as determined as ever to make the Garden Bridge happen which will bring huge benefits to London and the UK.”

More to follow…