Backyard Bridge charity spent £ 53.5m excluding development, TfL London notes


The charity that was behind the plan to build a garden bridge over the Thames in London spent £ 53.5 million without starting full construction. The final figures for the abandoned project have emerged.

Of the total Garden Bridge Trust spending, public funds accounted for £ 43 million – £ 24 million from Transport for London and £ 19 million from the Department for Transport, TfL said on Wednesday.

The rest of the money came from donations to the trust or fundraising drives.

The final total came after an official review of the cost of terminating and dissolving the project, which collapsed in August 2017 due to unrest. The review decided that final DfT funding of £ 5.5 million should be granted to the trust under the cancellation agreement.

TfL released the numbers, saying the potential cost was significantly lower than it could have been. However, serious questions remain as to how the project managed to spend so much money and to what extent then-London Mayor Boris Johnson supported the program.

The figures show that 40% of the money, £ 21.4 million, went to France-based contractor Bouygues. The trust was heavily criticized when a construction contract was signed before it appeared that all of the specified conditions for starting work were met.

Johnson signed a policy as mayor in 2016 that diluted some of the conditions that had to be met before more public money was released. Johnson was asked by the London Congregation last year why he did this and said he couldn’t remember.

The bridge was originally designed by actress Joanna Lumley and designed by Thomas Heatherwick. It should be an oasis filled with trees and plants across the river from the temple to the south bank.

Artist’s impression of the proposed bridge. Photo: Heatherwick Studio / PA

However, critics said the central location in an already touristy part of the capital risks overcrowding, arguing that the alleged transportation benefits are limited.

As the trust struggled to reach a final planning agreement with the Community Housing Trust on whose land the south side of the bridge was to be built, worries about rising costs and a poor business model for future costs grew.

In the end, the trust spent more than 70% of its £ 60 million public funds without building anything. Johnson’s successor, Sadiq Khan, eventually ended the program by turning down new funding.

As part of its review, TfL sought legal advice to determine whether the charity’s trustees might have violated their legal obligations. It concluded that there was no reasonable prospect of getting any of the money back.

While £ 11 million of private money would not be returned, documents released by TfL on Wednesday included details of other donations that would be returned due to the terms of the gift.

These amounts include £ 2.5 million from the philanthropic group founded by US media tycoon and politician Michael Bloomberg and £ 2,200 paid by a private donor in a fundraising auction for Breakfast on the Bridge. The document states: “It seems clear that he is contractually entitled to his breakfast or his money back.”