adiq Khan has been accused of destroying the Garden Bridge today as his supporters announced they had decided to officially complete the £200million project.
They said they had “no choice” but to abandon hope of building the visionary pedestrian crossing linking the South Bank and the temple because the mayor had “no support for the project going forward.”
The free bridge, first proposed in 2013 following a proposal by actress Joanna Lumley to then-Mayor Boris Johnson, would have allowed millions of Londoners and tourists to enjoy stunning views across the River Thames.
Among their supporters were the “star architects” Lord Rogers and Olympic designer Thomas Heatherwick, who was commissioned to draw up plans for the bridge.
They compared it to New York’s High Line Park, a world-class attraction that offers magical views over the city’s West Side.
A computer generated image of what the Garden Bridge might have looked like / ARUP
Today’s announcement from the Garden Bridge Trust comes four months after Mr Khan effectively sounded the project’s death knell by refusing to pay the bridge’s expected £3million annual operating costs.
This meant that the building permit issued in 2014 could not be ratified. It also deterred new benefactors, the trust revealed today.
The mayor’s decision came despite his longstanding support for the bridge in principle. Mr Khan had said in February: “Given past spending, the taxpayer will be better off when the bridge is built.”
Mr Khan did not want public funding to exceed the £60million already pledged in grants and loans by the Government and Transport for London.
The Garden Bridge faced many opponents because of its controversial design and cost of £200m
But £70million in private donations had already been raised and trustees – who were asked by TfL in 2013 to take responsibility for delivering the bridge – were confident more supporters could be found to fill the remaining £70m funding gap million pounds to close.
This means that around £37m of public funds already spent on preparatory work and trying to clear legal and planning hurdles will be lost.
The decision to complete the project was confirmed in a letter today from Mervyn Davies, Chair of the Garden Bridge Trustees, to Mr Khan.
Lord Davies said: “It is with great regret that the Trustees have come to the conclusion that the project cannot go ahead without the support of the Mayor.
“We are incredibly saddened that we have not been able to realize the Garden Bridge dream and that the Mayor is unable to continue the initial support.
“The Garden Bridge would have been a unique place; A beautiful new green space in the heart of London, free to use and open to all, showcasing the best of British talent and innovation.
“It’s a sad day for London as it sends out the message to the world that we can no longer deliver such exciting projects.”
Lord Davies also revealed in the letter that Mr Khan’s decision to reiterate his principled support for the bridge, only to have it withdrawn a year after his election, meant an extra £9million of public money was wasted.
The Garden Bridge would have cost £3million a year to run (Image: Arup)
He wrote: “The result is that around £9million in public funds has been allocated since the date of the mayoral election and if you had made the announcement that you have now made last May most of that spending would have been avoided. “
Lord Davies also revealed that Mr Khan “strongly declined” to meet him at any point in the past 15 months.
The mayor refused to pay the bridge’s running costs after claiming in a report commissioned by Dame Margaret Hodge that additional public subsidies would be required to complete it.
Mr Khan feared having a partially built bridge that would have to be completed or demolished at significant public expense. The trustees were confident that they would be able to cover the running costs through ongoing donations.
At the time, Ms Lumley said she was “devastated” that a “generous and beautiful idea … could take such a kick”.
Lord Rogers said the bridge “would be a culmination of the rediscovery and reinvention of the London river”.
Mr Heatherwick said “endless political infighting” brought the project to a halt.
Mr Khan said today: “It is my duty to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent responsibly. Following the very serious issues highlighted in Dame Margaret Hodge’s independent review of the bridge – including a funding gap of over £70m, potentially unlimited costs for London taxpayers to fund the bridge going forward, systemic flaws in the procurement process and decisions that not be pushed for value for money – I couldn’t allow a single penny more of London taxpayers’ money to be spent on it.
“Even before I became mayor I was aware that London taxpayers’ money should no longer be spent on this project and when I took office I gave the Garden Bridge Trust time to try and address the numerous serious ones address problems with it.
“Londoners, like me, will be very angry that London taxpayers have now lost tens of millions of pounds – from the previous mayor on a project that didn’t work.”