The controversial proposed Garden Bridge across the Thames in London should be scrapped, a review into the project by Dame Margaret Hodge has found. Hodge’s review said it would be better to scrap the Garden Bridge than risk spiralling costs and a shortfall in funding.
In September 2016 London mayor Sadiq Khan announced a formal inquiry into whether the controversial project was worth the £60m of public money pledged to it. Hodge, former Labour chair of parliament’s public accounts committee, was appointed to lead the review into the planned £185m project which was due to span the Thames, from Temple to the South Bank.
The project has been beset by problems and three months ago the Garden Bridge Trust conceded that its future was in doubt after accounts showed it had a £70m shortfall in funding. In October last year, it was revealed that former prime minister David Cameron had previously ignored the advice of civil servants over the funding of the bridge and that he personally intervened to approve extra taxpayer money for the project. The National Audit Office said that nearly £23m of taxpayer money was at risk of being lost.
In a damning and uncompromising 40-page report, Hodge said that it was better for the bridge to be scrapped rather than run the risk of even more public money being lost on the project. “Value for money for the taxpayer has not been secured” said Hodge and “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.”
Hodge said that in the present climate, with continuing pressures on public spending, it was difficult to justify further public investment in the Garden Bridge. “I would urge the mayor not to sign any guarantees until it is confirmed that the private capital and revenue monies have been secured by the Garden Bridge Trust,” said Hodge.
Hodge claimed that decision on the bridge had been driven more by electoral expediency than value for taxpayers’ money. Her review also revealed that costs for the bridge had ballooned from an early estimate of £60m to over £200m now. Hodge also said that the risk to the taxpayer had been made even worse as a result of the original plans to fund the Garden Bridge through private finance being abandoned.
Hodges review also revealed that the Garden Bridge Trust had lost two major private donors and had secured no new pledges since August last year and that hardly any progress had been made on raising money to fund maintenance of a completed bridge. Hodge also said that there had not been an open, fair and competitive process around two procurements for the project.
BBC transport correspondent Tom Edwards commented that he couldn’t remember ever reading a report so damning of a transport project. “Procurement, finances, business cases, value for money, previous mayors, deputy mayors and transport officials get an absolutely withering assessment,” said Edwards.
A City Hall spokesman said: “The mayor has been absolutely clear that he will not spend any more of London taxpayers' funds on the Garden Bridge. It is the Garden Bridge Trust that remains responsible for raising the necessary funds, and delivering the project.”
So far, the Garden Bridge Trust has yet to comment on the review but whatever they say it is hard to see how what was once seen as a flagship project can ever see the light of day after such a damning and devastating report.