London Assembly transport committee member Caroline Russell slammed the garden bridge project yesterday after Tuesday’s ‘damning’ report by the National Audit Office.
The report stated that there remains a ‘significant risk’ that the bridge will not be completed, citing specifically the fact that the Trust is yet to secure permission to build on the South Bank from Coin St Community Builders.
London members of the Green Party have stood against the bridge’s construction from the outset but Ms Russell hopes that this report might spell the end for the project.
Ms Russell, who is also the Green Party’s national transport spokesperson, said: “It’s absolutely scandalous that it’s got this far.
“There is no transport case, there is no tourism case and the horticultural case is pretty flawed too.
“Really, it should never have got off the ground and this NAO report is utterly, utterly damning of the processes – the processes that allowed the sign off on such a huge amount of money.”
£60m of public money has already been committed to the project through loans and grants from the Department for Transport and Transport for London.
The report states: “The Department [for Transport] now stands to lose a maximum of £22.5 million of its £30 million grant, should the project not be able to proceed.”
The NAO’s investigation found that, from the outset, the Department saw ‘a significant risk that the Bridge could represent poor value for money but agreed to make the £30 million contribution in spite of its concerns’.
If the project does proceed, the bridge is facing a shortfall of roughly £50m in private investment, according to an investigation by the BBC.
The NAO concluded that: “It is possible that the government will be approached for extra funding should the Trust face a funding shortfall.”
Ms Russell describes the situation as a crisis of governance, calling for the project should be scrapped before it incurs greater costs to the public.
“It absolutely doesn’t make sense to push forward,” she said.
“A huge amount of public money has been wasted on developing a design that should never have been allowed to move forward and it’s very, very unclear what’s happened to all that money. That money is wasted.”
Ms Russell was not confident, however, that she would receive support from Theresa May’s government when it comes to scrapping the project.
She said: “They are a complete nightmare. Theresa May is fracking, backing nuclear power and it looks like she’s going to go ahead with the Heathrow [third runway] announcement.
“I mean it’s a total disaster from start to finish from my perspective.”
While she acknowledged that London needs more river crossings, Ms Russell said that the mayor should focus on Rotherhithe and Diamond Jubilee bridges.
These projects are similar to cycle and pedestrian crossings but are estimated to cost a fraction of the garden bridge’s budget.
Sadiq Khan announced in late September that another inquiry, headed by Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge, would determine whether the project was worth the pledged £60m of public money.
The fate of the project, which has already faced numerous setbacks and delays, is likely to hinge upon the results of this report.
The Garden Bridge Trust was approached for a comment and provided the following statement: “It is right that there is scrutiny of the project because it involves public money and transparency is good at an uncertain time.
“78% of the Garden Bridge cost will be raised privately.
“The Trust has received an investment from government of £60m which was always intended to kick start private investment.
“Of this £60m investment, £20m is being treated as a loan and around the same amount will be repaid to The Treasury in VAT.
“This means the public investment will sit at around £20m in line with the Millennium Bridge.
“This is a visionary project and represents a tremendous investment for the public.”
Image courtesy of the Garden Bridge Trust, with thanks
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