The latest chapter in the saga of London's Garden Bridge, which has seen counter proposals and reactionary follies alike, has revealed major concerns relating to its funding mechanisms. As reported by the Architects' Journal, new findings from the United Kingdom's National Audit Office (NAO), which has studied the decision taken by the Department for Transport's decision to grant £30 million ($37 million) of funding to the Garden Bridge Trust, has discovered that the "sum [£30 million] was provided following a commitment from [the] then Chancellor George Osborne, and despite the DfT’s conclusion that there was ‘a significant risk that the Bridge could represent poor value for money’."
According to the AJ the report, which was first ordered in the summer of 2015, "also found that transport ministers had repeatedly relaxed a cap on the amount of its funding that could be used for pre-construction activity following requests from the Trust, twice against the advice of senior civil servants."
In spite of a cost cutting exercise in November 2015, the Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, Meg Hillier MP, has said of this report:
It worries me that whenever the Garden Bridge Trust runs into financial trouble, the Department for Transport releases more taxpayers’ money before construction has even started.
Hillier also commented on the fact that the piece of infrastructure will need costly maintenance throughout its life: "who's going to pick up the bill to maintain it?" If the project is cancelled the DfT looks set to lose "up to £22.5 million" of public money; meanwhile, the NAO has "expressed serious doubts that the Garden Bridge [will] be built."
A spokesman for the NAO has said that "there remains a significant risk that the project will not go ahead. The Trust has still not secured the land on the South Bank for the Bridge’s south landing, which has affected the timetable." In addition, "the main contractor has been put on standby and construction is now expected to begin in the spring of 2017" – around eighteen months later than initially planned.
The British Transport Minister, Lord Ahmad, has said that "the government remains supportive of the Garden Bridge project and Ministers took into account a wide range of factors before deciding whether or not to make funding available." He added: "The taxpayer, however, must not be exposed to any further risks and it is now for the trust to find private sector backers to invest in the delivery of this project."
Update - A spokesperson for the Garden Bridge Trust has provided a response to the story:
“It is right that there is scrutiny of the project because it involves public money and transparency is good at an uncertain time. 78% of the Garden Bridge cost will be raised privately. The Trust has received an investment from Government of £60m which was always intended to kick start private investment. Of this £60m investment, £20m is being treated as a loan and around the same amount will be repaid to The Treasury in VAT. This means the public investment will sit at around £20m in line with the Millennium Bridge. This is a visionary project and represents a tremendous investment for the public.”
News via Architects' Journal.
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