London mayor Sadiq Khan has scrapped backing for the controversial Garden Bridge, finally closing the door on his support for the troubled project.
In a letter to Garden Bridge Trust chair Lord Mervyn Davies, Khan announced that the GLA will not provide crucial financial guarantees for the scheme, which has already used £37.4M of public funds.
His decision comes after Dame Margaret Hodge published her damning report on the Garden Bridge, advising it should be scrapped as it provides poor value for money for the taxpayer.
“Under the previous Mayor, a considerable amount of London taxpayers’ money has already been spent on the Garden Bridge. I have always been clear that not a penny more of taxpayers’ money should be allocated to the project,” he said.
“Having assessed all the information available to me including the findings of Dame Margaret Hodge’s independent review, my view is that providing Mayoral guarantees will expose the London taxpayer to too much additional financial risk.
“With planning permission due to expire this year, many outstanding issues remain, including spiralling construction costs and doubts around funding the maintenance of the bridge.”
In her report Hodge found that financial risk to the taxpayer had increased after costs escalated from an initial £60M to £200M, and plans to finance the bridge using private money were abandoned.
The Garden Bridge Trust had rejected the report, saying it had “little regard for facts.”
“I regret that the significant expenditure of public funds and effort both from public bodies and the Garden Bridge Trust has not led to a situation where I can provide the guarantees requested,” Khan said in the letter.
He added that as the funding gap for the bridge is more than £70M and it appears “unlikely” that private funds could be raised, it would be unfair for taxpayers to have to step in to finance the project and ensure it is completed.
In his letter, Khan outlined several barriers to the project moving forward before planning permission expires in December.
Although on the North bank TfL is ready to work with the Garden Bridge Trust and Westminster City Council on work required for Temple station, on the South side there is still no agreement between a group called Coin Street Community Builders, Lambeth Council and the Trust.
Without agreement between all three parties, building cannot start on the project; Khan stressed his concern that while there has been significant expenditure on other parts of the project, it is possible that a deal would not have been reached before planning permission expired.
Khan acknowledged Hodge’s opinion that sufficient private funds for the project will not be raised, and therefore the bridge will rely on public funds.
“In the three years since the inception of the Trust, you have secured pledges of just under half of the funds required from sources other than the public sector,” he said in the letter.
The total amount pledged stands at £69M, compared to £85M in spring 2015.
He added that construction starting without the funds in place would have created an unnecessary financial risk to the taxpayer.
Khan also expressed concern that crucial operational and maintenance funding guarantees are not in place.
A joint venture of Bouygyes and Cimolai was appointed in April 2015 to build the bridge, designed by architect Heatherwick Studio, with consultant Arup undertaking the detailed design.
But in July 2016 enabling works were suspended due to funding concerns.
“We received the Mayor’s letter with great regret today. We will study the contents of the letter in detail before responding formally. The Garden Bridge Trust was set up at the request of Transport for London and the Department of Transport to deliver the project which had received public money,” said Garden Bridge Trust chairman Lord Mervyn Davies.
”We have had enormous support from our funders and are very confident we can raise the remaining funds required. But sadly the Mayor of London has taken a different decision to those in place when the project started.”