Lambeth news website London SE1 (www.london-se1.co.uk/news/view/9313) has unearthed the fact that London Mayor Sadiq Khan, has gone a lot further than he announced in April regarding the Garden Bridge. At that time, the Mayor simply stated that he wouldn't sign the guarantees underwriting the £3m annual running costs, which are a requirement both of the planning permission and of the High Court agreement entered into with TCOS chair Michael Ball following the launch of his judicial review in 2015.
But we have now learnt that in May, the Mayor in fact issued a full revocation of all the Mayoral Decisions (instructions issued by the Mayor to his staff at Transport for London or the Greater London Authority/GLA) signed off by Boris Johnson when Mayor, going right back to 2013 when the project started. They include:
* MD1248 of April 2013, which established the Mayor’s strategic support for the project, and delegated to senior officers at TfL and the GLA powers to use its statutory powers and functions to develop strategies to deliver the project, including “establishing a clear policy statement of the need for a crossing of the Thames in this area”, procuring the land and necessary consents, identify funding and “making budgetary provision” from TfL coffers for these works.
* MD1355 of June 2014 which instructed officers to provide £30m of TfL money towards the £100m+ costs of construction and to “do anything that it [sic] necessary or expedient or that is conducive or ancillary to the above activities” of delivering a Garden Bridge, including bearing the financial risk “that suitable third party funding for the construction, maintenance and operations of the bridge will not be secured by GBT” which was limited to £16m. (The bridge cost is currently "in excess of £200m").
* MD1472 of June 2015 which instructed officers to negotiate and agree the terms of guarantees underwriting the operational costs of running the bridge after construction.
This means that at one (quiet) stroke Sadiq has demolished the entire strategic and legal framework which would be required to build a bridge across the Thames – going a lot further than his public pronouncement that he wouldn’t underwrite the project because it wasn’t value for money.
While that framework was still in place, our fear was that if (in some Alice in Wonderland way) the Sheik of Araby deposited a large amount of money, or offered to underwrite the project, or even if the government proposed to directly underwrite the project (perhaps following a coup by Boris!), this would automatically trigger resuscitation of the project. We have also been concerned that any on-going Mayoral instructions (from the last Mayor) to provide strategic support would encourage processes to continue, such as negotiations on the use of Temple Station roof for the landing of the bridge.
Since Sadiq has revoked the Mayoral Decisions, this framework is no longer in place, so that, for example, Mayoral strategic support of the transport case is no longer there. The most practical impact is that all negotiations over the use of Temple Station roof should be off, and TfL will be acting (when making repairs, for example) in the expectation that the project won’t be happening. Therefore, in the unlikely chance that there is a windfall from a Sheik or a successful Boris coup or whatever, the project would not automatically be resuscitated, and the Mayor would have to go through a formal legal process of supporting the project again, which itself would take time and would be challengeable both within the GLA and at the High Court.
The Garden Bridge Trust (GBT) is a private charity and can propose whatever they like (within the terms of their charity) like any developer, so it’s never been in Sadiq's gift to 'cancel' the project, but 'only' to fully withdraw support, as he has done. And other things follow, such as London Borough of Lambeth (LBL) is no longer obliged to continue negotiations on the lease of the grassed South Bank for the southern bridge landing (although it would be good if LBL similarly revoked the decision to enter into such negotiations). And the GBT can no longer claim to be able to make progress in these circumstances - which therefore begs the questions:
(i) why are the GBT continuing? How do they meet the remit of their charity by doing so?
(ii) they have a duty to their funders to return money which is unlikely to be spent, including public money – what are they doing about this?
(iii) what are TfL/ GLA doing to claw back any of the £37m given to the GBT now that strategic support has been revoked? Where is the full/itemised breakdown?
We should be publicly pursuing those questions, as well pursuing Lambeth to make a similar formal revocation.
* Write to Sadiq Khan firstname.lastname@example.org and GLA members with these concerns. Copy in GLA members Tom Copley (Labour), Caroline Pidgeon (LibDem), Andrew Boff (Conservative), Sian Berry/Caroline Russell (Green), Peter Whittle (UKIP) who have all expressed disquiet about the money thrown at this vanity project. (Use this format for contacting GLA members: email@example.com)
* Write to the leader of Lambeth Council: Cllr Lib Peck firstname.lastname@example.org and tell her to withdraw support for the Garden Bridge and to stop negotiations with the GBT.
* Write to Iain Tuckett Executive Director of Coin Street Community Builders i.e. leaseholders of the South Bank land needed for the GBT's South Landing building; tell them to withdraw support for the Garden Bridge and to stop negotiations for this land which is a public right of way.