London Assembly asks TfL to explain why scheme’s designer attended trust board meetings

Garden Bridge

The role Thomas Heatherwick played in the Garden Bridge debacle has been questioned by a London Assembly inquiry into the project.

Tom Copley, chair of the London Assembly Garden Bridge working group, asked Transport for London commissioner Mike Brown to explain whether there were concerns that Heatherwick’s presence at meetings had swayed trustees.

Heatherwick was controversially appointed to design the £175m scheme in 2013. The scheme was binned in 2017 after then-new London mayor Sadiq Khan decided no more public money should be lavished on the project.

Speaking at the evidence session yesterday, Copley asked: “Were you aware that Thomas Heatherwick was attending the Garden Bridge Trust meetings and at any point were you concerned about him potentially influencing the trustees?” 

Garden Bridge winter

Brown, who became commissioner in 2015, said he had not been aware Heatherwick was going to the trust meetings.

He said: “I’ve had no dealings with him. I have no understanding what his role was attending those meetings.”

The Assembly has been examining the procurement of the Garden Bridge design contract since September 2015. Members of the Garden Bridge Trust have previously refused to attend the evidence sessions, which are looking TfL’s role in the project.

According to trust board papers, which have been published, Heatherwick attended seven meetings across 2013, 2014 and 2015, sending apologies on another five occasions.

While he did not attend meetings after the end of 2015 an apology for his absence was noted on minutes from nine meetings during 2016.

The appointment of both Heatherwick and lead engineer Arup was the subject of significant anger, with RIBA threatening to call for the Garden Bridge to be halted pending an investigation into the way it was procured back in 2016.

Marks Barfield and Wilkinson Eyre also entered a design competition for the job, but - it emerged in Margaret Hodge’s report in 2017 - that they had just 12 days to submit proposals after the invitation to tender went out in 2013. Unbeknown to the two practices, Heatherwick Studio had been working on the project for five months, creating what Hodge says was an “unfair playing field”. Julia Barfield later described Hodge’s findings as “shocking”.

Documents published in February revealed that around £2.8m of payments were made to groups associated with Heatherwick Studio for work on the project.

The studio itself was paid £52,425 directly by TfL prior to the Garden Bridge Trust - the charity given the job of building the bridge - taking over responsibility for the project.

A second entity labelled as “Arup-Thomas Heatherwick” received two other payments totalling £2.7m. These consisted of one payment from TfL of about £1.6m and another £1.1m payment from the trust.

The Garden Bridge working group’s role is to consider, on behalf of the London Assembly, any additional information now available in relation to the Garden Bridge project and related matters. It has been instructed to report back to the GLA Oversight Committee on those matters at the earliest opportunity.

Garden Bridge trees and plants