Rejoice! Finally the Garden Bridge cronies have thrown in the towel.
Londoners are no longer threatened with having their pockets picked for ever and a day to fund the exorbitant running costs of this monstrous folly. The South Bank is no longer threatened with congestion and privatisation. The best views of St Paul’s won’t be lost. And 38 trees scheduled for destruction are saved.
But why has it taken so long? Why have Londoners lost £46m funding what was supposed to be a gift from the world’s kindly philanthropists? How could the Garden Bridge Trust have spent £46m with nothing to show for it? Can any money be recouped? Who is culpable?
These are questions which the friends of Boris Johnson’s pet project have spent months trying to avoid, pretending they could survive Sadiq Khan’s withdrawal of support in April, following the devastating independent report from Margaret Hodge. We don’t know what £46m has been spent on because the Garden Bridge Trust have not explained, despite virtually all of their funding coming from the public purse – a fact which means they are obliged to provide the same level of transparency required of all public bodies.
They have thrown in the towel in August in the hope of disappearing during the ‘silly season’ of news. But this scandal will not disappear. While we must rejoice at the Garden Bridge’s demise, we must also pursue these questions and demand a public inquiry to investigate the corrupt practices which forced thousands of Londoners to give up their time and money campaigning against this nonsense:
* What on earth have the GBT spent £46m on? All that we know is that Arup and Heatherwick pocketed over £8m between them, itself an outrageous fee. We demand a detailed breakdown, and the GBT is obliged to provide it.
* Why and on what did the GBT spend £9m over the past year, when the project was losing its philanthropic pledges and teetering on bankruptcy?
* Why were the GBT allowed to sign a construction contract in March 2016, despite not having the money to build nor the land to build upon nor an implementable planning permission?
The Trust’s cancellation of the project triggers a further £15m cancellation fee – which at the moment looks likely to fall on the public purse. Why did TfL sign this off?
* Why didn’t former Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy advise Boris that the project was unviable rather than greenlight the bypassing of legally required procurement processes, and fail to report the project and its commitments to the TfL Board for 9 months? And why did current Transport Commissioner Mike Brown aggressively defend the project during the GLA inquiry, and allow the concerns of his own internal audit to be suppressed?
* Have the GBT behaved recklessly? If so, are the multi-millionaire members of the Trust personally liable for at least some of the missing millions?
* Why did Lambeth Council and Coin Street Community Builders secretly encourage the project from January 2013, a full 18 months prior to it going public? And why did they enter into negotiations on leasing the land in 2015, when London-wide opposition to the project was increasingly evident, and the Trust were clearly very far from their fundraising targets and unlikely to proceed without yet more public money being pumped in?
*And what action should be taken for chief cheerleaders of the project who were in positions of public office and overlooked proper procedure i.e. George Osborne, Boris Johnson, Isabel Dedring, Richard De Cani, Edward Lister?
It’s been an incredible campaign, supported by hundreds of activists in Waterloo and many thousands of Londoners. Our campaign should encourage anybody facing the hubris of inappropriate development being dumped on them: it doesn’t matter if the project is being hustled through by the most powerful and privileged, a mass movement of opposition can stop such projects in their tracks.
But it’s not enough to stop the Garden Bridge. To ensure nobody goes through the sort of hell Waterloo residents have been through it is vital that we pursue the answers to the questions above, and that elected politicians and public officials are held to account, if not held personally liable for the loss of £46m in these years of purported austerity. Only if they are held to account will they think twice about trying to foist such follies on Londoners at their expense.
Michael Ball - Chairman TCOS