Thursday24 August 2017

Hodge report was 'skewed', says Garden Bridge boss

  • Email
  • Comments (18)
  • Save

Mervyn Davies accuses MP of mainly speaking to opponents of project

The head of the Garden Bridge Trust has blasted Margaret Hodge‘s highly critical report on the project, claiming that she mainly spoke to opponents of the embattled scheme when putting it together.

Stopping short of accusing her of bias, nonetheless Mervyn Davies (pictured) accused Hodge of being “selective” in whom she spoke to after being commissioned last October by London mayor Sadiq Khan to review the scheme.

The Trust said Hodge “has engaged with a very selective – largely opponent – audience” and Davies added: “It is a shame that Dame Margaret has shown disregard for the facts and been selective in her use of evidence to support her own opinions.”

He said: “[The bridge’s future] is now in the hands of the Mayor. Our message to him is that this report, with its many errors and ill-informed opinions, is no basis upon which to take decisions about a project that has been through the complex democratic processes by which decisions on development are made in this city.”

In a four page letter to Hodge and the mayor, Davies – a former trade minister in Gordon Brown’s Labour government – accuses Hodge of being “discourteous” and says the Trust was given no warning Hodge’s report would be coming out last Friday (April 7).

He said: “This put the Trust in a position by which we were unable to provide timely briefing of our funders and key stakeholders. You will understand the importance of our relationships with such critical supporters of the project and, 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.”

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”.

And he pointed to a survey which 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.

The Trust also claimed that Hodge did not meet any of the existing funders and added: “Her suggestion that the fact certain pledges are anonymous ‘significantly contributes to the fragility of the commitments’ is unsubstantiated and incorrect.

“In fact, one of our most loyal supporters, who has underwritten our operational costs, is anonymous and wishes to remain so indefinitely. It is perfectly normal in the philanthropy and charity sectors for funders to stipulate anonymity for a variety of different reasons, including the desire to support a project away from the spotlight.”

Hodge, who has commented on Davies’ criticisms (see below), said in her 45 page report last week the plug should be pulled on a scheme which has already used up more than £37 million of public money.

She said: “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.”

Hodge said the cost of the scheme, originally budgeted at £60 million, was now likely to be in excess of £200 million and said the bridge, which has been designed by Heatherwick Studio, has a funding gap of £70 million with no new pledges from private donors since last August.


Hodge responds

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.



Readers' comments (18)

  • Austin Clegg

    An excellent and definitive response from Margaret Hodge to this rather desperate effort at self justification.

    One would hope for a little humility from this man who still has so many questions to answer over the gross misappropriation of nearly fifty million quid of public money, with more to come by the look of it.

    Heads should roll over this one, but in the modern way nobody will take the blame and nobody will be punished.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Getafix

    I'm not particularly a fan of the garden bridge, but Hodge is no friend of good architecture. She has a track record as a philistine and wrecker as Minister of State at the Department for Culture. She repeatedly ignored the listings recommendations of English Heritage, preferring to trust her own prejudiced instincts.

    The garden bridge may or not be a good idea, but I am sceptical as to whether Hodge will have given it a fair hearing.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • She did not refer to the architecture or design at any point, and it was not part of her remit.

    As you've read the report you'll have seen it was squarely related to the procurement, finance and management.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Getafix

    She dislikes modern architecture. It's easy to cloak dislike for any given scheme by claiming you're just interested in 'value for money' but the fact is she'd probably be opposed to it even if it was on budget.

    A Twentieth Century Society added: ‘Minister Margaret Hodge has made no secret of her personal dislike for post-war buildings and has here failed to understand the basic premise of heritage protection in England. [We are] tremendously disappointed by the Minister’s decision not to follow the advice of her advisers and list Birmingham Central Library. EH advice on listing is not often overturned and this is a key case in that regard.’

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Austin Clegg

    A certain actress who was once very keen to associate herself with this project seems to be keeping schtum these days.

    Perhaps BD should send a reporter to her Cotswold mansion or Belgravia flat or wherever for a choice comment or two.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Mervyn Davies is well-placed to talk of of "errors and ill-informed opinions".

    Garden Bridge Trust cost estimates:

    - June 2013 - £60m: completely privately funded
    - November 2013 - £150m - including £60m of public money
    - November 2014 - £175m
    - August 2016 - £185m + £3.5m annual running costs
    - April 2017 - £200m+£3.5m tax-payer underwritten running costs with £50m lost for nothing if its cancelled owing to a 'scorched earth policy' of advance payments to contractors

    CGis of this project should form the visual dictionary entry for "Hubris".

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • The sad progression of the Garden Bridge has been characterised by a strategy, learnt from Boris Johnson, of simply rubbishing any criticism in Trump like fashion. It is a sign of growing desperation that all the key players over recent days have been rubbishing who ever springs to mind. Heatherwick last week rubbishing TfL and the professionals involved in the procurement, when he well knew his own position. The Trust is now on form endeavouring to rubbish the integrity of Margaret Hodge. This is simply rubbish and the sooner they are held accountable the better!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • “one of our most loyal supporters ... is anonymous and wishes to remain so indefinitely. It is perfectly normal in the philanthropy and charity sectors for funders to stipulate anonymity for a variety of different reasons..."

    Does anyone else find this as sinister as I do? Perhaps when public money is involved, full disclosure of vested interests should be manditory.

    I would also argue that the GBT has always and continues to stretch the definition of 'Charity' and 'Philanthropy' to further this vanity project.

    This report was concerned with the primary issue of value for money. It is demonstrably not value for money, and the competitive process was objectively a sham. In his letter, Mervyn Davies fails to offer a decent defence of these issues, relying instead on accusing Dame Hodge of partisanship.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Austin Clegg

    I am sure we can all think of 'a variety of different reasons' why somebody eager to squander large sums of cash on a project such as this might want to remain anonymous.

    Unfortunately, our libel laws prevent us following such speculations in print.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Have to agree somewhat that this report is biased written by a fellow labour peer, hardly a democratic way of accessing if the bridge should be built or not.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

View results 10 per page | 20 per page

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

sign in register
  • Email
  • Comments (18)
  • Save
Sign in

Email Newsletters

Sign out to login as another user

Desktop Site | Mobile Site