London mayor launches inquiry into garden bridge project's use of public money

Will the garden bridge ever see the light of day?

Fresh doubts over whether London’s proposed garden bridge will ever be built have surfaced after London mayor Sadiq Khan this week announced a formal inquiry into whether the controversial project is worth the £60m of public money pledged to it.

Margaret Hodge, former Labour chair of parliament’s public accounts committee, is to lead a review into the planned £185m project which is due to span the Thames, from Temple to the South Bank.

Although the Hodge inquiry has not been set up to decide whether the bridge should be built, the new probe will inevitably raise new doubts on the delayed scheme which has yet to raise the private funding it needs or clear all the necessary planning hurdles.

Former mayor Boris Johnson was a big advocate of the scheme while Khan is somewhat cooler and has already said that no more public money will be spent on it. Hodge’s main remit will be to assess whether value for money has been achieved from the substantial public investment in the scheme as well as looking at how Transport for London, the Greater London Authority and other organisations have dealt with the proposals.

If Hodge concludes that the bridge is not good value for money then mayor Khan would have the opportunity to reconsider a project which has already received almost £40m of public money.

Khan has already said that the Garden Bridge Trust, charged with managing the project, would not get a bailout if it hit trouble and that the project had not shown “the necessary standard of transparency and openness”. “Nearly £40m of public money has already been spent on the garden bridge project and Londoners deserve far more information about the decisions that have been made around how their money is being spent,” Khan said.

Following his election in May Khan said that it would cost more to cancel the project than it would to build it, but many observers believe that he has since cooled on the project, especially given public funding uncertainties post-Brexit and following recent new questions raised over the project’s viability. 

Construction on the bridge was supposed to have started earlier this year but this has now been put back until 2017 at the earliest. Following the announcement of this latest inquiry, few would bet on construction of the £185m project starting any time soon.

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