Garden Bridge trustees' scathing letter to Sadiq Khan announcing decision to scrap plans

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Chairman of the Garden Bridge trustees Mervyn Davies today announced the decision to scrap plans to build the pedestrian crossing, citing Sadiq Khan’s failure to throw his weight behind it.

Here is his letter to the Mayor, announcing the “sad” decision, in full:

Dear Mayor Khan,

In view of the less than wholehearted response in your letter of 13 July, the lack of an earlier response to my letters dated 19 June and 3 July, and your subsequent public statements it is now plain that we cannot expect the level of support we need from you to deliver this landmark project.

We have always been clear that we cannot seek to build a landmark in this city if its Mayor is not wholly and publicly supportive. Nonetheless, given the millions of public and private funds expended, the tens of thousands of hours of effort by the design and construction team, and the thousands of hours freely given by Trustees, we felt we had to make sure we had exhausted every possible way of converting that effort into an asset for London. Sadly, we have now reached the point where the Trustees have no choice but to wind up both the project and the Trust, and we have consequently resolved to do so.

As you are aware, since receiving your letter of 28 April announcing your disappointing and unexpected decision not to endorse the commitment of the previous Mayor to provide the necessary operations and maintenance guarantee, we have been in detailed discussions with two parties who stepped forward as alternative guarantors. The first party, a philanthropic Foundation, withdrew after some discussion with you; but we continued to fight for the project and had informed you that the Government was minded to issue the guarantee, but its first requirement was to know that you are genuinely supportive of the project.

We therefore forwarded your 13 July letter to the Secretary of State for Transport immediately on receipt, and asked whether he regarded it as adequate to satisfy that requirement. Having received no reply, we subsequently wrote to say that without a reply we would have to assume that it was not regarded as adequate, would be forced to conclude that the guarantee is not securable, and would proceed accordingly. Immediately subsequent to the Trustees’ resolution to halt the project, we did receive a letter from the Secretary of State’s office, but simply to say that they had reached out both to the other potential guarantor and to your office, but that they “do not think [they] can do anything further to influence the Mayor’s public support for the scheme”.

Clearly, therefore, an essentially public scheme that was launched with the support of central and local government, including the complete backing of the then Mayor, no longer has that political support upon which it has always depended. A trust that was created purely to deliver the scheme on behalf of the public, and at the public authorities’ behest, can consequently do no more; and we will be making an announcement to that effect today.

At the same time, there are a number of inaccurate statements – made both in your 28 April letter and in subsequent interviews given to the media – that we cannot allow to go unanswered and which I now address here.

Operations and maintenance guarantees

I note that, both in your letter and media statements, you positioned your decision not to provide the guarantee as merely a matter for the Trust to consider. But you must surely have known that the guarantee is critical to the very future of the project, and also has implications for you as Chair of one of our major partners.

Furthermore, since your election, you reiterated that the signing of the guarantee was dependent only upon more work being done on the Business Plan for Operations and Maintenance. Additional work (inevitably involving additional expense) was therefore commissioned, and the result was delivered to the deadline set by your officials.

At a meeting convened by your Chief of Staff on 20 April, along with senior members of Lambeth Council, Westminster Council, Coin Street Community Builders, the GLA and TfL, an independent expert on visitor attractions presented our revised plan. The general view of all those who attended the meeting was that it was robust, and demonstrated a variety of potential income streams. At that meeting, a bit more work was requested on the plan, but critically all parties confirmed that they would take the action necessary to progress the scheme, subject to the issue of the Mayoral guarantee.

It is clear that, if a decision had already been made (but not declared) by 20 April, then no account can have been taken in the decision you published on 28 April of the information produced for that meeting. Instead, rather than relying on work commissioned at the request of your office, your decision seems to have been based on the personal views expressed in the report produced by Dame Margaret Hodge. This is notwithstanding the position we had previously relied upon, as set out in your letter of 13 December 2016, where you stated that “given previous expenditure, the taxpayer will be better off if the bridge is built…I do not see that Dame Margaret’s review could reach a different conclusion”.

That was quite apart from the merits/demerits of that report. The reality is that Dame Margaret has no particular expertise in many of the areas that her report covers; and my letter of 12 April to her raised serious issues about the validity of her findings, and was copied to you. We have not received any response from Dame Margaret or yourself addressing the inadequacies of her findings, and while you note in your letter that you have seen our reply, clearly you have nonetheless accepted her opinions.

Land agreements

I was surprised by the claim in your letter that, despite three years of negotiations, no agreement has been made with CSCB in respect of the land required for the south landing of the bridge. We reported to your officials at the meeting on 20 April that the Trust and CSCB have agreed detailed heads of terms. This was confirmed by CSCB at the meeting, where they noted they are ready to enter into an agreement with the Trust subject only to resolution of matters with Lambeth Council (LBL). As freeholder, LBL is required to agree the head lease but have taken a position – expressed directly to your Chief of Staff for some months and reiterated at the 20 April meeting by the Chief Executive of LBL – that they will not expend resources on land negotiations until you had confirmed your intent to issue the guarantee. There was therefore nothing more we could do until you published your decision.

Expenditure of public funds

Your letter also states that much has been spent on the project “under the previous Mayor”. But it is over a year since your election, and in that time you have consistently reiterated your support for the project “both for the benefits it could bring and because the taxpayer would be better off than if it was not built” – knowing that the future of the project depended upon your guarantee. Your letter of 13 December is also clear on your position in relation to the guarantees, stating “I accept that the project required guarantees to be issued in order to meet the necessary planning conditions and have no in principle objection to these being given by the Greater London Authority”.

These assurances, together with the reasonable assumption that you would honour the decision made by your predecessor to provide the guarantee, and the successful navigation through the important democratic processes by which decisions about public projects are properly made, were all critical to the Trustees pushing on with the project – and therefore with the expenditure necessary to maintain progress. 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.

On the subject of where the money has gone, we will, of course, account for every line of expenditure as part of the winding up operation.

Project cost

In the context of the £60m project cost referred to as a baseline by Dame Margaret, your letter states that costs have escalated. But to our knowledge that figure was, in fact, never offered as an estimate of total cost, and it is certainly not a figure that has at any time been endorsed by the Trust. From the very moment of its establishment (and many months before it took over responsibility for management of the project), the Trust spoke of a budget of £150m. Since that time, further increases have almost without exception been the result of interventions or delays by third parties, including those that have accumulated whilst awaiting a decision on the issue of the guarantees.

Capital fundraising

In relation to fundraising, you say that you will not issue “a blank cheque”. But of course the guarantee bears no relationship at all to capital cost, and the Trust has always made clear that it would not commence substantive construction until it was confident that funds adequate to complete it would be secured. The guarantee, by contrast, relates to ongoing maintenance and operations, and the risks around it certainly do not amount to signing a blank cheque, and are no different now than they were when you took office.

Rather than taking issue with every inaccuracy, I will repeat what I wrote to Dame Margaret on this subject: at no stage did she – or you – discuss fundraising with the Trustees responsible or indeed with any of our existing funders, and I do not understand how you can properly have reached these conclusions without having taken this opportunity.

More generally I have, over the course of the last 15 months, requested a meeting with you, and made clear that I would make myself available to meet at any time. You have just as insistently declined to meet. So to receive your 28 April letter without any discussion was both surprising and incredibly disappointing.

To conclude as I began, this project that has always been conceived as a public project for all of those who live in or visit the capital, but it cannot succeed without the whole-hearted support of the Mayor of London. Despite two potential guarantors approaching the Trust to rescue the project, one of which, as you know, was considering a major contribution to the capital cost as well, you have chosen not to make sufficiently clear to them your support for the project.

And so, with the decision announced in your letter dated 28 April and the inability to agree a way ahead since, it ends. The Garden Bridge would have been a unique place: a beautiful contribution to a green city, free to use and open to all. It would have brought significant transport, business and community benefits, already evident in the offers of funds made by individuals, trusts and companies across the UK as well as in our partnerships with community organisations. It would have been a showcase for the best of British talent, sending a message to the world that London and the UK still lead the way in creativity, ambition and innovation – and, of course, that London is open. Regrettably, declining to lend your sufficient support to the many others already aboard for this landmark project sends a quite different message.

A resolution to wind up has therefore been passed by the Trustees, and a public announcement will be made today, after proper notice to the many donors and other supporters of the project who have remained so loyal during this long period of uncertainty.

Yours sincerely, 

Lord Davies of Abersoch

Chairman, Garden Bridge Trust

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