The vanity indulgences of London’s formerly very occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson are legion: the cable car that has no regular users, the 1,000 buses that came at a premium price and generated no exports, the water cannon that his own party put the kibosh on him using, and then there was the Garden Bridge across the Thames, the result of Joanna Lumley gently twisting Bozza’s arm (Oo-er chaps!).
End of the Heatherwick Boondoggle
As Zelo Street regulars will know, the Garden Bridge was inexplicably bunged a significant amount of public money on Bozza’s say-so, but would still have required the guarantee of yet more in order to cover its running costs and maintenance. The warnings from sources like the Architect’s Journal came thick and fast: the likelihood of the trustees managing to persuade sufficient sponsors to pony up more money was fading fast.
The withering assessment from central Government was telling: as Dave Hill at OnLondon concluded earlier this month,”Margaret Hodge’s excavation of how the Garden Bridge project has got into its present, rickety state is starkly illuminating about Johnson’s time at City Hall, an eight year tenure characterised by arrogance, hypocrisy and a paucity of achievements for which he has yet to be held fully to account”.
I’ve said many times that the reputation of Bozza’s Mayoralty was kept afloat by the fawning complicity of his pals in the press establishment, and that the reality was rather different. Now, push has finally come to shove, and his successor Sadiq Khan, under pressure to address all those issues which were too much for Bozza to get his head round, has taken the decision: he has effectively killed off the Garden Bridge project.
Khan has written to the Garden Bridge Trust to give them the bad news: “The funding gap is now at over £70m and it appears unlikely that the trust will succeed in raising the private funds required for the project … I am simply not prepared to risk a situation where the taxpayer has to step in and contribute significant additional amounts to ensure the project is completed”. More than £37 million of public money has already been wasted.
Commissioning Ms Hodge, a former chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, to review the project was key. As the Guardian has reported, she found “What had started as a project estimated to cost £60m was likely to end up costing more than £200m … the Garden Bridge Trust had lost major donors and secured only £69m in private pledges, leaving a gap of at least £70m, with no new pledges obtained since August 2016”.
As the Tweeter known as Folly For London has pointed out, this decision may well be as significant as the decision to stop the senseless demolition of Covent Garden in the 1970s. I’ll go further: this is the moment that the myth of the Johnson Mayoralty finally began to unravel. It could not come at a worse time for the Tories, but for the press establishment, the shame will be greater, and deservedly so. This waste is partly their doing.
In Sadiq Khan, London has a Mayor prepared to Do The Right Thing. More power to him.