One of the topics Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan brought up during his first Question Time discussion was finances regarding the London Garden project.
Following news that it may likely be cancelled before completion, Sadiq Khan had said it would cost tax payers double to cancel the project than it would to complete and develop the new bridge. However, despite these warnings, it was revealed ministers have continued to fund it with more taxpayer’s money.
A Flawed Business Plan
A report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has revealed the contentious project may cost up to £20 million if cancelled. The project has had its issues from day one. According to Dan who runs a consultancy for tourist attractions and other buildings, the business plan for the construction was the least comprehensive he had seen in 2 decades, working in the industry.
The architect was surprised that the London Garden project was ever approved at all. “Projects that seem like they would require a lottery to fund them often go through heavy scrutiny, but this one appeared to sail through easily”, he said.
The Thomas Heatherwick-designed plan, to stretch between Temple on the north side of the river and the South Bank, has been projected to cost over £175 million. About 30% (£60 million) will come from taxpayer funds- split halfway by the Department of Transport and Transport from London.
The NAO, an independent government spending regulator, observed a “pattern of behaviour” where the Garden Bridge Trust, the charity supervising the Thomas Heatherwick-designed project, continued to request government funds whenever they experienced challenges, which was granted.
The discoveries continue to shine the spotlight on misgivings trailing the heavily delayed project, currently facing severe problems. In September, the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, called for an investigation into £60 million of taxpayers’ money, the bulk of which had been spent before construction began.
The original plan to start the scheme began in 2013, when chancellor at the time, George Osborne approved the transfer of £30 million through the Department for Transport. The NAO noted this transpired regardless of the questionable transport or tourism benefits from the footbridge across the Thames.
The £8.2 million previously set by ministers for pre-construction work on the tree and plant decor around the bridge rose to £9.95 million in June 2015 and £13.4 million in 2016. The report has since been defended by Thomas Heatherwick. In the report, officials had advised ministers against increasing expenditures for the following years.
Dan believes the flawed business plan was approved mainly on the assumption that it would be bailed out by public funds whenever it was required. They were so eager to get the project going, they abandoned alternative sources of funding to pacify critics. For instance, they gave away commercial income from the south landing of the bridge to the housing trust that owns the lease on the land.
A spokesperson for the Garden Bridge Trust says there will be a revised plan subject to examination by the mayor’s office. “The trust strongly believes that London Bridge belongs to Londoners and everyone, so it wouldn’t be right to charge people to cross the bridge,” she concluded.