The London Garden Bridge Scandal Just Won’t Go Away …

The Garden Bridge story just won’t go away. You may remember that the previous Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, along with actress and national treasure Joanna Lumley, decided that a Garden Bridge over the Thames was a good idea.

We then saw one of the worst examples of public sector procurement we have ever seen conducted by Transport for London (TfL), which included blatantly unfair practices, changes in evaluation processes, a lack of documentation … and all ended up with the designers Heatherwick and project engineers Ove Arup winning the contracts for initial work on the project.

In the end, a lack of financial and public support for the venture, plus a new mayor who didn’t share Johnson’s enthusiasm, meant the project withered away. But this has cost the taxpayer some £50 million, and activists are still trying to get to the bottom of this and see if conflicts of interest (or worse) played some part in this waste of public money.

The Architects Journal did a great job of investigating the whole affair, and last week they reported on a couple of further issues.

One story was around this – “Transport for London missed a chance to stop the project more than one year before Sadiq Khan’s decision to call time on it – something that could have saved the taxpayer some £16 million. The project reached a critical milestone in early 2016, where TfL not only had the opportunity stop the project, but in fact had a responsibility to stop it”.

The charity behind the bridge needed to demonstrate at that point that it had met certain conditions, and it hadn’t, so TfL should have stopped the work then. But instead, more grant funding was released.

The other Architects Journal story was that the Garden Bridge charity was refusing to provide minutes of its meetings to TFL who are investigating events. It’s worth saying that TFL appear to have had the minutes once upon a time but have “lost them”, which doesn’t speak very highly for that organisation’s processes.

Meanwhile, two of the main players in this who were involved in one case in the mayor’s office and in the other as the main decision maker in the dubious procurement, continue with their current roles at Ove Arup. Fortunately, the investigation by Dame Margaret Hodge concluded that their job offers and positions from Arup were totally unconnected with their Garden Bridge work and purely coincidental.

'Both they (Isabel and Richard) and Arup have assured me there was no connection between Arup's contract with TfL for the Garden Bridge and their recruitment by Arup. I found no evidence to suggest otherwise and fully accept those assurances'.

I’m sure Dame H is correct on that matter.

In the end, we doubt whether anyone will get Scotland Yard knocking on their door here – too many people had a hand in the sorry tale, and we doubt that there is a “mastermind” behind this, sitting in a big chair, stroking a white cat and cackling to himself. Or herself of course.

But we sincerely hope that TfL have taken measures to make sure that at least the procurement element of this £50 million cautionary tale couldn’t happen again. Finally, we look forward to seeing Boris Johnson evading questions on this when he appears at last in front of a City Hall committee on the 1st of March.

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Voices (2)

  1. George Evans:

    Brunel’s Clifton suspension bridge reportably cost £100k (£12.5m today) for a practical visual wonder and national asset.
    The London garden bridge has reportably cost £47m for nothing.
    Is the comparison a practical example of how the UK has regressed from a nation of doers to a nation of wafflers, or a nation that has progressed from a manufacturing economy to a service economy?

  2. Trevor Black:

    As for the lessons learnt, Boris has recently announced a bridge to cross the channel! Is it not too late to just award the contract to Carillion? I’m sure a few million in their back pocket before starting the project wouldn’t go amiss! Cutting edge procurement in the heart of our capital is just in another world.

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