The East London Garden Society

Garden Bridge should be scrapped

Three months ago, the Garden Bridge Trust admitted its future was in doubt after publishing accounts which showed a £70m shortfall in funding. Initially £60m of public money was pledged on planning for the bridge with Transport for London pledging £30m, but £20m of that was to be a loan, and the rest was from central government.

Dame Margaret says £37.4m has already been spent, and even if the bridge did not go ahead, it would cost the taxpayer £46.4m. The Garden Bridge Trust said it was seeking a meeting with the London Mayor to discuss the next steps, but added the trust was determined to make the bridge happen.

Dame Margaret, the MP for Barking and Dagenham and former chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee was asked to examine the project by London Mayor, Sadiq Khan in September. On 7 April 2017, Dame Margaret said: “Value for money for the taxpayer has not been secured. 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.” Dame Margaret said decisions on the Garden Bridge were driven more by electoral cycles than value for taxpayers’ money. Her review also found costs spiralling out of control from an early estimate of £60m to now over £200m. Moreover, the review found the risk to the taxpayer has intensified while the original ambition to fund the Garden Bridge through private finance has been abandoned.

Other findings include:

  • The Trust has lost two major private donors and has had no new pledges since August 2016.
  • Very little progress has been made on raising money to fund maintenance of a completed bridge.
  • There was not an open, fair and competitive process around two procurements.

Dame Margaret’s review criticised the tendering process for the design of the Garden Bridge created by the previous City Hall administration. It stated that architects Heatherwick Studio were given a head start in the process having already been closely associated with the project for five months before invitations to tender were sent out. Two other firms that took part in the tendering process ‐ Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield ‐ were given just eight working days to submit designs.

David Marks, co‐director of Marks Barfield, told the BBC: “This competition didn’t smell right from the start. It appears we were just there to make up the numbers and the outcome of this tender had already been pre‐determined. Had Marks Barfield been aware of Heatherwick Studios’ involvement and original idea, we would certainly not have submitted a tender. We’ve never been asked to do something in such a short space of time.”