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Sadiq Khan was today accused of scuppering the Garden Bridge as its backers announced they had decided to formally wind up the £200m project.
They said they had “no choice” but to abandon hope of building the visionary pedestrian crossing linking the South Bank and Temple because of a “lack of support for the project going forward from the Mayor”.
First proposed in 2013 after a suggestion from actor Joanna Lumley to then mayor Boris Johnson, the free bridge would have enabled millions of Londoners and tourists to enjoy stunning views across the Thames.
Its backers included “starchitects” Lord Rogers and Olympic designer Thomas Heatherwick, who was commissioned to draw up plans for the bridge.
They compared it to New York’s High Line Park, a world-class attraction that provides magical views across the city’s West Side.
Today’s announcement from the Garden Bridge Trust comes four months after Mr Khan effectively sounded the project’s death knell by refusing to underwrite the bridge’s anticipated £3 million annual running costs.
This meant that planning permission, awarded in 2014, could not be ratified. It also scared off new benefactors, the trust revealed today.
The Mayor’s decision was in spite of his long-standing support in principle for the bridge. Mr Khan had said in February: “Given previous expenditure, the taxpayer will be better off if the bridge is built.”
Mr Khan did not want public funding to exceed the £60 million already pledged in grants and loans by the Government and Transport for London.
But £70 million had already been raised in private donations and the trustees – who were asked by TfL in 2013 to take responsibility for delivering the bridge – were confident more backers could be found to plug the remaining £70 million funding gap.
It means that about £37 million of public funds already spent on preparatory work and in trying to overcome legal and planning hurdles will be lost.
The decision to wind-up the project was confirmed in a letter today from Mervyn Davies, chairman of the garden bridge trustees, to Mr Khan.
Lord Davies said: “It is with great regret that trustees have concluded that without mayoral support the project cannot be delivered.
“We are incredibly sad that we have not been able to make the dream of the garden bridge a reality and that the Mayor does not feel able to continue with the support he initially gave us.
“The Garden Bridge would have been a unique place; a beautiful new green space in the heart of London, free to use and open to all, showcasing the best of British talent and innovation.
“It is a sad day for London because it is sending out a message to the world that we can no longer deliver such exciting projects.”
Lord Davies also revealed in the letter that Mr Khan’s decision to repeat his in-principle backing for the bridge, only to withdraw it a year after being elected, meant that an extra £9 million of public funds were wasted.
He wrote: “The result is that about £9 million of public funds has been committed since the date of the mayoral election, and had you made last May the announcement you have made now, then most of that expenditure would have been avoided.”
Lord Davies also revealed that Mr Khan had “insistently declined” to meet him at any time over the last 15 months.
The Mayor’s refused to underwrite the bridge’s running costs after a report he commissioned from Dame Margaret Hodge claimed that it would require additional public subsidy to complete.
Mr Khan feared having a partly-built bridge that would require completion or demolition at considerable cost to the public purse. The trustees were confident of covering the running costs through ongoing donations.
At the time, Ms Lumley said she was “crestfallen” that a “generous and beautiful idea… could take such a kicking”.
Lord Rogers said the bridge “would be a crowning glory for the rediscovery and reinvention of London’s river”.
Mr Heatherwick said “endless political wrangling” had brought the project to a standstill.
Mr Khan said today: “It’s my duty to ensure taxpayers’ money is spent responsibly. Following the very serious issues highlighted in Dame Margaret Hodge’s independent review of the bridge – including a funding gap of over £70million, potentially unlimited costs to London taxpayers to fund the bridge in the future, systemic failings in the procurement process and decisions not being driven by value for money – I could not permit a single penny more of London taxpayers’ money being spent on it.
“I have been clear since before I became Mayor that no more London taxpayers’ money should be spent on this project and when I took office I gave the Garden Bridge Trust time to try and address the multiple serious issues with it.
“Londoners will, like me, be very angry that London taxpayers have now lost tens of millions of pounds – committed by the previous Mayor on a project that has amounted to nothing.”
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