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Garden Bridge | TfL boss admits Bouygues construction contract was ‘reckless’

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Transport for London (TfL) commissioner Mike Brown has admitted that the Garden Bridge Trust was “reckless” when it signed a construction contract with French contractor Bouygues.

At a London Assembly meeting, Brown agreed with Labour assembly member Tom Copley that signing the contract with Bouygues was “reckless” as the trust did not have “the full funds in the bank”.

Bouygues was paid £21.4M before the Thames project was scrapped in 2017. In total, the Garden Bridge Trust – which was fully responsible for the construction and management of the project – spent £53M on the project which was never granted planning permission.

Brown added that TfL did not see the construction contract before it was signed, as the Garden Bridge Trust was set up as an “arms-length body” and therefore had autonomy over contracts. 

“I am not party to what was in the mind of the Garden Bridge Trust, I only ever met representatives for the Garden Bridge Trust once,” Brown said. “I was not aware what was going through their mind, but I had assumed that they must have had a degree of certainty as to the funding stream that was coming to them if they were going to enter into that construction contract with Bouygues.”

He added: “This was a contract that was beyond the reach of TfL […] and therefore we did not see the contract. We were not party to it. It was not our signature that was on it or necessary to go on it.”

The taxpayer funded £43M of the unfinished project’s total spend – £24M put up by TfL with an additional £19M from the Department for Transport (DfT) – while private investors put in £10.5M.

The final cost was uncovered after TfL also handed over a final payment of £5.5M to the trust to cover future liabilities and contingencies associated with the formal wind-up of the organisation.

Brown labelled the Garden Bridge project as a “sorry escapade” and added that “in retrospect a lot of things” would have been done differently.  

He added: “I think there are lots of things that with the benefit of hindsight we might have sought to do differently. But at that time, I think it would have been  considered strange to have a set of trustees set up and for us to sort into the contract that was after all was signed between [the Garden Bridge Trust] and Bouygues in this case.”

Last month, TfL head of corporate affairs Andy Brown told a London Assembly group investigating the failed project that while working on the Garden Bridge project he was “satisfied” with the way TfL and the Garden Bridge Trust charity conducted their work.

He was addressing the assembly after a report by the Charity Commission stated that the loss of £53M on the unbuilt bridge before it was scrapped risked undermining public trust in charities. The report criticised the Garden Bridge Trust’s lack of transparency and accountability.

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