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Commission: Garden Bridge Trust Acted Properly

Thursday, March 2, 2017

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The organization behind London’s controversial Garden Bridge project is in the clear, at least in terms of its business practices, as a government regulator has issued a report indicating that there are no irregularities in its financial practices.

The Charity Commission announced Tuesday (Feb. 28) that an investigation into the Garden Bridge Trust turned up “sound financial processes.” The Commission had first looked into the Trust after “a number of complaints about the charity, and a wider public discussion regarding the risks involved with such a project,” it says.

Garden Bridge rendering
Renderings: Garden Bridge Trust

The group behind London's Garden Bridge plan was cleared of any financial impropriety by the U.K.'s Charity Commission, though an inquiry ordered by London's mayor has not yet been completed.

According to the Commission, “trustees were meeting their duties and were acting in compliance with charity law,” and “the processes for awarding of contracts appear to have been robust.”

"This case shows that high profile charities can attract considerable public scrutiny, and the public rightly expect charities to be transparent and accountable,” said David Holdsworth, chief operating officer of the Charity Commission. “Having trustees in place with the right skills and experience is crucial for a charity to operate effectively.”

The agency notes that its investigation and subsequent report only pertain to the Trust’s finances and processes, and not to the overall value or viability of the bridge project itself. The bridge plan still faces considerable challenges, including another review ordered by London’s mayor, reported trouble raising private funds, and a recent statement from the Treasury indicating waning confidence in the value of the project.

Bridge Plan History

When its plans were first unveiled in 2014, the Garden Bridge was touted as a tourist attraction that would bring visitors from around the world. The 1,200-foot-long bridge would be covered in plants, bushes and 270 trees, and would span the Thames between the Waterloo Bridge and the Blackfriars Bridge, near landmarks like the National Theatre and the Tate Modern.

Garden Bridge planned location

The 1,200-foot-long bridge would be covered in plants, bushes and 270 trees, and would span the Thames between the Waterloo Bridge and the Blackfriars Bridge, near landmarks like the National Theatre and the Tate Modern.

The bridge, designed by Heatherwick Studio in conjunction with engineers at Arup and landscape architect Dan Pearson, was originally slated to be completed in 2018. Last year, the Trust awarded the construction contract to a joint venture of Bouygues Travaux Publics and Cimolai SpA, and said it planned for the bridge to open in 2019.

It would be the most expensive pedestrian bridge in the world, estimated at £175 million (about $274.6 million according to exchange rates when that estimate was made, in 2014), and would be made in part of copper-nickel cladding that proponents say would keep it maintenance-free for 120 years.

Mayoral Criticism

But the project has faced harsh criticism over cost and sources of funding, from the London Assembly and from London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who entered office in 2016, with the project already well into the planning process. Khan called for a review of the Trust’s finances, headed up by former Member of Parliament Margaret Hodge. That inquiry is separate from the Charity Commission review, and Hodge’s report has not yet been issued.

Khan has also said, though, that he doesn’t think cancelling the project now would necessarily be wise, as more than £25 million have already been spent on pre-construction work.

New Financials

In a report filed with the Trust’s financials in January, trustees noted that they still weren’t certain the  bridge would be built.

“Trustees are unable to conclude that the Trust is a going concern and feel it only appropriate to flag these risks in this report,” the introductory letter reads. If certain variables, including securing property rights and funding from the mayor, don’t come together soon, “they will need to consider the further delay to the project, and in the worst case scenario, whether the project remains viable.”

The financials revealed that in a 17-month period, the Trust had raised £13 million in private donations, far short of the private funding needed to pull the project off. The group needs £56 million more in private money to bankroll the bridge.

And in contrast with the positive news for the Trust from the Charity Commission report, on Feb. 9, the U.K.’s Treasury said that the business case for the bridge is weaker now than it was in 2014 when it first was proposed, and when public funds were committed to it.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Contracts; Europe; Finance; Funding; Government; Program/Project Management

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