While this blog has been hot on the heels of London’s formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson over the vanity cable car and all those hundreds of vanity buses, at least there was an end product to the projects, no matter how useless or feeble. But now, months after Bozza moved on from City Hall to become part of the post-Brexit Government (God help us), another of his chickens is coming home to roost.
And this time, it’s a vanity project that is increasingly looking like there will be no end product at all. Moreover, an increasing number of Londoners would be more than happy for there to be no end product, because we’re talking about the 21st Century folly that is the Garden Bridge, another Heatherwick boondoggle, and another apparently bottomless money pit that is now teetering on the verge of cancellation.
Sadly for the cash-strapped Government agencies concerned, though, if the Garden Bridge fails to get built, it will not merely be a case of all interested parties walking away. That is because rather a lot of money has already been thrown at the exercise.
Almost two months ago, new Mayor Sadiq Khan admitted to LBC host James O’Brien that the bridge might not get built, adding “This is not a state secret, of course that's a possibility”. But, as London SE1 pointed out, “Transport for London and the Government have committed £30 million each to the Garden Bridge Trust's £175 million project, with some of TfL's contribution taking the form of a loan”.
And as the Guardian has reported today, “Ministers have repeatedly given more public money to London’s planned garden bridge, despite official advice against doing so, and risk losing more than £20m if the controversial project is cancelled, according to a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) … Civil servants were so worried about the scale of public underwriting of the scheme that they sought rare formal direction from ministers instructing them to commit extra funds to it”. On their heads be it, in other words.
Public money was committed to the project in 2013, “despite questionable transport or tourism benefits from the footbridge across the Thames”. Limits on how much of that money could be spent before construction began were breached twice. And then “There was particular worry among civil servants earlier this year, when the DfT also agreed to guarantee £15m in other costs if the project were cancelled”.
Labour MP Meg Hillier likened the Garden Bridge to the fiasco over charity Kids Company, adding “It worries me that whenever the Garden Bridge Trust runs into financial trouble, the Department for Transport releases more taxpayers’ money before construction has even started … If the project collapses, taxpayers stand to lose £22.5m”.
It gets worse: “The Garden Bridge Trust has yet to secure the necessary sub-lease on the area of the South Bank where the bridge will land, the report notes, while the main contractor has been put on standby and construction has been delayed for at least 18 months”. Monthly updates for the DfT “do not contain ‘standard project performance information,’ such as progress against schedule and budget”.
It’s an expensive way for Bozza to show his friendship with Joanna Lumley. And it’s the public who are once again having to underwrite Bozza’s lousy judgment.