Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has claimed the Garden Bridge would have been “adorning the river now” if he were still mayor, arguing it would not have been “money down the drain”.
The former London mayor told the London Assembly oversight committee it was a “bitter disappointment” that the bridge will not go ahead after his successor Sadiq Khan scrapped the project in April last year.
Costs on the project climbed from an initial £60M to £200M by the time it was cancelled. Around £46M of public money has been wasted as a result.
Johnson had been officially summonsed by the committee to explain his role in the controversial project, which has attracted much criticism, including claims that it had run an unfair procurement process.
During the meeting Johnson blamed Khan for wasting £9M of taxpayers’ money, saying he “blew hot and cold” on the project and ultimately withdrew support because he “never really adopted it as something he wanted to make his own”.
Johnson said: “It would have been a great thing for London, that’s why I think it was right to spend public money on it. Both I and the former chancellor George Osborne saw the merit of the scheme and we wanted to get it going.”
He added: “Were I still mayor of London I would certainly have continued with that project and it would not have been money down the drain. Alas, for now it is.”
Later Johnson claimed there was an “excellent business case” and serious transport need for the bridge, despite Transport for London (TfL) previously claiming the Garden Bridge did not make TfL’s 100 top transport projects.
Johnson said: “The transport need was very conspicuous. It was to enable people to have a beautiful walk one way or the other, either to Waterloo or to Covent Garden, and simultaneously to increase the offer of the city.”
He added it would have been a “beautiful piece of engineering which would have stood the test of time” and that it had become popular at “fashionable dinner parties” to be negative about the scheme.
Transcripts released last year show that during an interview for Dame Margaret Hodge’s inquiry into the bridge, TfL commissioner Mike Brown admitted that the bridge was not even among the transport body’s top 100 priority projects for the capital.
“In terms of all the transport imperatives in London – and there are many, and you will know that, the growing population and all the things we’ve got to do – this would not feature in my top 100,” he said at the time.