Plans for the Garden Bridge project across the River Thames should be abandoned, according to an independent review.
The review conducted by Dame Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking and Dagenham and former chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, revealed that “decisions on the Garden Bridge were driven by electoral cycles rather than value for money”.
It has also been found that the project’s construction costs have skyrocketed. The project was initially estimated to cost £60M, but it is now likely to cost more than £200M.
“The project has already used £37.4M of public money and the agreement to underwrite cancellation costs by the Government could bring the bill to the taxpayer up to £46.4M. I believe it is better for the taxpayer to accept the loss than to risk the additional demands if the project proceeds,” the report said.
Contracts awarded to Heartherwick Studio for design and consulting services and to Arup for engineering and project management services “were not open, fair or competitive procurements”, the review found.
Dame Margaret said: “I did not seek to ask whether the concept of a garden bridge over the River Thames is a good idea. But my review has found that too many things went wrong in the development and implementation of the Garden Bridge Project.
“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.
“In the present climate, with continuing pressures on public spending, it is 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.
“My report outlines some key lessons that can be learned from the Garden Bridge project across different public organisations and makes a number of recommendations. I thank the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, for giving me the opportunity to examine the project in detail.”
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, will now “take time” to understand the findings, but will not spend “a penny more of taxpayers’ funds”.
Commenting on the review, Lord Mervyn Davies, chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust, said: “We are pleased that Dame Margaret has finally published her report after six months of uncertainty. We will be studying the report in detail and seeking a meeting with the Mayor to discuss next steps. The Trust remains as determined as ever to make the Garden Bridge happen which will bring huge benefits to London and the UK.”
The mayor of London appointed Dame Margaret to carry out the review on 19 October.
* Image: Aerial view of London and River Thames.