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Report: Garden Bridge Risks 'Downplayed'

Thursday, October 17, 2019

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A new report on the failed Garden Bridge project, authored by the London Assembly and published by the Assembly’s Garden Bridge Working Group, alleges that key stakeholders, which included the current U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, spent public money recklessly.

The 83-page report, titled “Up the Garden Path: Learning from the Garden Bridge Project," released on Tuesday (Oct. 15), says that the Garden Bridge was an “ambitious project delivering significant infrastructure within short timeframes and funded primarily by private sources,” but delays that resulted from the failure to finalize “land rights and planning permissions on both sides of the proposed bridge served to exacerbate the funding insecurity that plagued the project throughout.”

Garden Bridge Saga

The nonprofit Garden Bridge Trust announced in August 2017 that it was “winding up” the project, which had already cost London taxpayers an estimated 37.4 million pounds (roughly $48 million). However, London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced in late April 2018 that he was pulling city support from the project, citing what he called “exorbitant” costs to build and maintain the structure.

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.


A new report on the failed Garden Bridge project, authored by the London Assembly and published by the Assembly’s Garden Bridge Working Group, alleges that key stakeholders, which included the current U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, spent public money recklessly. 

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. 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 was called forward in December 2017 to answer questions regarding the ill-fated project. In March 2018, 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.

In May 2018, a report indicated that the Trust was 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.

In December, wealthy individuals who provided financial donations to the project began seeking to sue the charity behind the endeavor, with one alleging that the money had been flushed away when the project fell apart.

And earlier this year, the London Assembly issued a demand for correspondence from Transport for London that was written in communication with the project’s Trust. In February, it was reported that taxpayers would be covering 81% of the 53 million pounds spent on the foiled project. The news arrived on the heels of Transport for London making a call to issue a final payment of 5.5 million pounds to the charity behind the project.

Recent Report

The recent report also concluded that the risks associated with the bridge project were downplayed by Transport for London in order to satisfy Johnson, who in turn had placed the agency under “significant pressure” to speed up the development stages. The Garden Bridge Trust, which had refused an appearance before the assembly regarding evidence, was also subject to extensive criticism.

The decision to sign the construction contract in early 2016 was also a move that has been widely criticized. At the time, the charity did not have the land or funding secured for the project. Transport for London claims that it does not have a copy of the contract, and the construction company, Bouygues, did not comply with an inquiry. The new report indicates that the decision to sign the contract took place when the trust was in an unstable financial position, and that the trust chose to sign the contract to help lighten its financial troubles.

Mervyn Davies, chair of the trustees, also advised other trustees to not read the entire contract, according to the report. Davies went on to recommend that the decision be made on a summary report based on the idea that there are potential problems when “trustees with little or no experience” are tasked with examining something they are not familiar with in-depth.

Some trustees responded with concern, citing issue with idea that the trust may be acting recklessly in signing. At the time, not all funding had been acquired.

The report also went on to note that no one had apologized for the public money that had been spent on the project.

Report recommendations included:

  • Transport for London should update its procurement processes to include planning for each stage of delivery, which should be implemented by December;
  • The agency should also update project delivery processes in order to ensure sign-off on important delivery stages, also implemented by December; and
  • Before the end of the year, Transport for London should request the construction contract and provide contractual conditions for agency oversight for infrastructure projects valued at 50 million pounds or more.


Tagged categories: Bridges; EU; Europe; Government; Lawsuits; Program/Project Management; Project Management

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