The Garden Bridge Trust has said it refuses to accept Dame Margaret Hodge’s damning review on the future of the project, claiming it shows little respect for facts.
In a letter to Hodge, chairman of the Garden Bridge Trust Lord Davies claimed there were “a number of inaccuracies” in the report and that substantial parts were based on Hodge’s opinion alone. He added the future of the bridge is now reliant on London mayor, Sadiq Khan, who must sign a guarantee before construction begins.
Hodge’s review, published last week, recommended the project be scrapped as it is poor value for money. It found the risk to taxpayers from the project had risen dramatically after costs rose from an initial £60M to £200M.
“It is a shame that Dame Margaret has shown disregard for the facts and been selective in her use of evidence to support her own opinions. The trustees’ focus remains on the future of the bridge, and the great benefits it will bring to Londoners and visitors alike. That future is now in the hands of the mayor,” said Davies commenting on the letter.
“Our message to him is that this report, with its many errors and ill-informed opinions, is no basis upon which to take decisions about a project that has been through the complex democratic processes by which decisions on development are made in this city.”
The project has already used £34.7M of public money, which will be lost if the scheme does not go ahead. However costs are expected to escalate to £200M and the trust currently has a funding gap of £70M.
Several key areas of the report were addressed in the letter.
Davies defended the trust’s pre-construction contract with the Bouygyes and Cimolai joint venture, which was appointed in 2015. Hodge’s review labelled the procurement process “unfair and closed”.
“Given that it is a highly specialist area, I am not clear how you came to your conclusion about this being a ‘risky and premature’ decision without seeking expert advice or input, particularly as you said yourself during the meeting, ‘I’m not an expert on this’,” said the letter.
In her review Hodge claimed the business case was weak and electorally driven.
Davies hit back with suggestions Hodge had been given an outdated version of the business plan, and reiterated the plan is “robust” adding “we are confident [it] will successfully cover the Bridge’s maintenance costs.”
The review suggested the Garden Bridge Trust had not properly engaged with the local community.
The trust has dismissed this claim after citing a ComRes poll which found more than three quarters of Londoners want the project to go ahead.
It claims Hodge spoke almost exclusively to opponents of the project in her research for the report.
Publication of the review
In the letter Davis labels Hodge’s approach to publishing the report “discourteous” and “unacceptable” as the trust was not warned before publication, and so did not have time to brief stakeholders.