London mayor says he will not provide project with financial guarantees
London mayor Sadiq Khan has effectively pulled the plug on the controversial Garden Bridge, three weeks after a scathing report recommended it be scrapped.
Khan today wrote to Lord Mervyn Davies, the chair of the Garden Bridge Trust, informing him that the Greater London Assembly would not provide mayoral guarantees for the project.
The mayor had been assessing a report he commissioned into the Bridge, authored by Labour MP Margaret Hodge which blasted the procurement process.
In his letter, Khan said the continuation of the project would expose the London taxpayer to additional financial risk, both with regard to the bridge’s construction and its operation and maintenance.
In a swipe at his predecessor Boris Johnson – who declined to speak to Hodge as part of her inquiry into the Bridge – Khan said “a considerable amount of London taxpayers’ money has already been spent on the Garden Bridge. I have always been clear that not a penny more of taxpayers’ money should be allocated to the project.
“Having assessed all the information available to me including the findings of Dame Margaret Hodge’s independent review, my view is that providing Mayoral guarantees will expose the London taxpayer to too much additional financial risk.
“With planning permission due to expire this year, many outstanding issues remain, including spiralling construction costs and doubts around funding the maintenance of the bridge.
“The funding gap is now at over £70 million and it appears unlikely that the Trust will succeed in raising the private funds required for the project. I am simply not prepared to risk a situation where the taxpayer has to step in and contribute significant additional amounts to ensure the project is completed.”
Khan’s intervention effectively signals the end of the controversial project – which has been in development for five years – and the ambitions of Johnson, actor Joanna Lumley and designer Thomas Heatherwick.
What Khan said on funding
In his letter, the mayor focussed on the funding issues plaguing the bridge.
He wrote: “I have been supportive of the Garden Bridge project…However, I have to set this against the project’s current situation:
“Less than half of the required private sector funds having been pledged, never mind paid into your account..”
He also raised concerns about possible future judicial reviews into the scheme and agreement still not having been reached “between land interests on the south bank” and told Garden Bridge Trust chairman Mervyn Davies: “It does not seem reasonable to me to believe that all these obstacles can be overcome.”
He told Davies the project has £69 million pledged from private sources – lower than the £85 million figure pledged back in spring 2015 – and said: “My view is that the confirmed pledges figure demonstrate a lack of prgress over two years…Pledged funds being lower than two years ago strongly suggests that support for the project is not robust enough to generate the required funds. And of course a pledge is not the same thing as a payment into your account.
“Your most recent accounts…demonstrated material uncertainty as to whether the Trust can properly regard itself as a going concern. This reflects the challenging status of the project and the levels of public opposition to it. These factors must reasonably be expected to deter some potential donors.”