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Garden Bridge Trustees Aired Early Concerns

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

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A new report indicates that the group behind the failed Garden Bridge, planned for London's River Thames, were made aware of several problems with the project before the contract was signed for construction to begin—and of the fact that there was no guarantee the funding could be raised to address these issues.

Uncovered in recently released minutes of meetings of the Garden Bridge Trust’s board, the warnings came from trustees who questioned the status of the project, and one who asked bridge directors whether they could be held liable for losses if it was later found they acted recklessly.

Garden Bridge Crumbles

The nonprofit Trust announced in August 2017 that it was “winding up” the project, which was projected to cost 200 million pounds (about $260 million), and which has already cost London taxpayers an estimated 37.4 million pounds. London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced in late April that he was pulling city support from the project, citing what he called “exorbitant” costs to build and maintain the structure.

Rendering: Arup

Reports indicate that entities were made aware of several problems with the Garden Bridge project before the contract was signed for construction to begin—there was also no guarantee the funding could be raised to address these issues.

The pedestrian bridge would have spanned the Thames between the Waterloo Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge, near landmarks like the Tate Modern. Plans called for the bridge to be covered with vegetation, including 270 trees, and the structure would have been plated with nickel-copper cladding that supporters said would have been maintenance-free for 120 years.

The bridge, designed by Heatherwick Studio with help from 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.

Johnson Response

Former London mayor Boris Johnson was called forward in December 2017 to answer questions regarding the ill-fated project. In March, Johnson alleged that he could not recall why he signed the key directive as mayor of London, while also noting that the funding conditions had been met by the charity behind the project. He was subsequently asked why he had watered down some of these conditions.

“The honest answer, Mr Copley, is you asked me something which, I’m afraid, I simply don’t have, at this distance in time," Johnson said. "I don’t for a minute accept the [characterization] that you’ve made of the, whatever letter I may have signed. I’ll certainly study it and get back to you.”

Rendering: Garden Bridge Trust

Plans called for the bridge to be covered with vegetation, including 270 trees.

Johnson also alleged that Will Hurst, a journalist with the Architects’ Journal, who uncovered a number of issues related to the project, was motivated in his reporting by a personal dislike of Thomas Heatherwick, the founder of Heatherwick Studio.

The recently released minutes will raise new questions for Johnson.

Advance Warnings

In the minutes of the board meeting, trustee Alistair Subba Row, a partner in the property firm Farebrother, highlighted that 22 hurdles still had to be overcome in deputy chair Paul Morrell’s notes, while also adding that these were significant hurdles that could delay the program. Row also inquired if the trust would be reckless in signing the construction contract, given that not all the funds were in the bank.

Company directors could be held liable if they did not take reasonable steps to avoid losses for creditors if insolvency became possible.

Other problems discussed included delays in securing permission from a housing trust that held the lease where the south end of the bridge was going to be built; a 10-million-pound cost increase; and whether a judicial review would further delay the timeline.

Morrell was confident the issues would be overcome. Trustee chair Mervyn Davies said that new donation pledges meant trustees should be confident; there were still risks, but they were not being reckless.

The project was cancelled in August 2017.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Funding; Government; Project Management

Comment from Richard Smith, (5/23/2018, 1:39 AM)

It was a very interesting idea and would have become an iconic structure. I went to a presentation by the bridge design team. I'm a welder and engineer, to give my perspective. It would have made good use of special materials - copper bonded to steel plate - at a time when commodity prices are very low - would have been a sneaky bargain others would have to pay a lot more to copy. I'll support the visionaries here.

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