London’s troubled Garden Bridge proposal may have finally been dealt its final blow, after a new report by senior Labour MP Margaret Hodge concluded that the project should be cancelled now rather than risk pumping more public money into the controversial scheme. Conceived of by Thomas Heatherwick Studio in 2013 and approved by the Westminster Council in December of the following year, the over £46 million of public funding that has already gone toward the project would not be able to be recovered.
“What started life as a project costing an estimated £60 million is likely to end up costing over £200 million,” the report reads. “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.”
Originally supported by Transport for London and championed by high-profile figures including actor Joanna Lumley and former Mayor Boris Johnson, the Garden Bridge project met early opposition from critics who believed the bridge would serve a redundant function as a river crossing in its proposed location. In addition, the bridge would be open from only 6am to midnight, and could be closed up to 12 times a year for private events, prompting several government officials to refer to the scheme as purely a “vanity project.”
Further trouble arose amid allegations of cronyism in the competition process – despite the initial estimates for the Heatherwick-designed scheme coming in at more than 3 times higher than other proposals, the bid was nonetheless deemed by Transport for London to be the most ‘economically advantageous’.
As a result of these concerns, in July 2016 initial work on the bridge was put on standby to allow for a financial review of the project, with the current Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announcing the formal review by Hodge into the procurement processes and its overall value for money in September of that year.
The two other firms that took part in the competition, Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield - had just eight days to design and submit schemes, the report found.
"This competition didn't smell right from the start,” co-director of Marks Barfield David Marks told the BBC. “It is clear that we were just there to make up the numbers and the outcome of this tender had in reality already been pre-determined.
Hodge's report concludes by advising the city swallow the loss of public funding rather than move any further forward with plans:
“In my judgement it is better for the taxpayer to accept the loss than to risk the additional demands if the project proceeds,” the report closes. “In the present climate, with continuing pressures on public spending, it is difficult to justify further public investment in the Garden Bridge.”
Chariman of the Garden Bridge Trust, Lord Mervyn Davies, issued this response to the report’s findings:
“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 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.”