London’s troubled garden bridge project was accused of benefiting from a significant conflict of interest after it was discovered that a senior official raised millions of pounds in public money for the project after taking a job with the engineering firm behind it.
Richard de Cani, then Head of Planning for Transport for London, played a key role in securing additional £ 7m funding from his organization and the Department for Transport last February.
According to correspondence received by Architects Journal as part of a freedom of information request, De Cani had a notice period at TfL after accepting a managerial position at Arup.
The global engineering office in which De Cani now heads planning for the UK, Middle East and Africa regions is the engineer behind the planned £ 185 million bridge over the Thames.
The Thomas Heatherwick-designed project, which will run 367 meters from South Bank to Temple and will include 270 trees and thousands of plants, has received £ 60 million in public funding between TfL and DfT, which is to be phased out.
According to the records, under the terms of the contract with the Garden Bridge Trust, the charity behind the project, the transportation department and TfL will each hand over £ 3.5million to the project in February following the signing of a construction contract.
Correspondence shows that De Cani’s role was to convince the DfT to release its stake after arguing that the trust has all the resources and consents necessary to build the structure, which remains dubious.
While there is no evidence that that £ 7 million would have gone straight to Arup, the engineering firm would likely benefit from it when the bridge is finally built.
Tom Copley, a Labor member of the London Assembly, said he intended to write to the head of the TfL, Mike Brown, to inquire about the perceived conflict of interest.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the bridge would no longer receive public funding. Photo: David Levene / The Guardian
“We’re not talking about small roasts, we’re talking about millions of pounds of tax dollars that were handed over when there were critical concerns about the trust’s ability to meet the terms of its contract,” he said.
“This project was wrapped in thick smoke protection right from the start. This will only decrease the public’s confidence that their money is being used properly. “
While the bridge is touted as a boon to tourism and traffic in central London, the bridge has been criticized for spending significant amounts of public money on a river link at night and in a part of the city that is already well served and privately run closed for occasional corporate events.
The project suffered significant planning and logistics delays. Construction had already started at least a year late, and high-ranking politicians were debating whether it should continue at all.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has asked Labor MP Dame Margaret Hodge to see if it offers value for the tied public money, nearly £ 40 million of which has already been spent. Khan has pledged that the bridge will no longer receive any public funding.
In October, a report by the National Audit Office on the project reported that ministers had repeatedly given more money despite official advice.
TfL said suggestions that De Cani had a conflict of interest were “wholly unfounded”. A spokeswoman said: “Our funding agreement with the trust stipulates that we will be required to make grant payments once certain milestones have been reached, including the signing of the construction contract. We have kept the Department of Transport informed of these payments because of their financial contribution to the project. “
A DfT spokesman said: “There is no conflict of interest here. The financing agreement concluded in 2015 between TfL and the Garden Bridge Trust made it clear that further funds will be released for the trust after the building contract has been signed. “