London mayor pulls the plug on Garden Bridge

London mayor Sadiq Khan has today effectively killed of the Garden Bridge project by refusing to provide Boris Johnson’s previously promised mayoral guarantee for its operation and maintenance costs.

Khan has written to the chair of the Garden Bridge Trust, Lord Mervyn Davies, informing him that the GLA will not be providing any mayoral guarantees for the Garden Bridge project. In a letter to Lord Davies, the m outlined his view that the continuation of the project will expose the London taxpayer to additional financial risk, both with regard to the bridge’s construction and its operation and maintenance.

Before making his decision, the mayor analysed the findings of Dame Margaret Hodge’s independent review into the Garden Bridge project, and assessed all the information available about the project to date.

During the mayoral campaign and since his election last year, Khan has repeatedly stated that he would not agree to any more of London taxpayers’ money for which he is responsible being spent on the Garden Bridge project. He also made it clear that he would not provide any mayoral guarantees unless he was convinced that the project would not lead to additional public expenditure down the line.

The letter to Lord Davies outlines a number of ways in which the project would expose the London taxpayer to additional financial risk. These include:

  • Increasing capital costs of the project;
  • The risk of the bridge only being partially built; and
  • Doubts over the establishment of an endowment fund to help meet future maintenance costs.

Commenting on the move, London mayor Sadiq Khan said: “Under the previous mayor, a considerable amount of London taxpayers’ money has already been spent on the Garden Bridge. I have always been clear that not a penny more of taxpayers’ money should be allocated to the project. Having assessed all the information available to me including the findings of Dame Margaret Hodge’s independent review, my view is that providing mayoral guarantees will expose the London taxpayer to too much additional financial risk.

“With planning permission due to expire this year, many outstanding issues remain, including spiralling construction costs and doubts around funding the maintenance of the bridge. 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.”

In response to the mayor’s announcement, the Garden Bridge Trust chairman, Lord Davies, said they would be reviewing their options. Clearly though, the trust will face a massive challenge in finding another organisation to provide the maintenance guarantee.

“The Garden Bridge Trust was set up at the request of Transport for London and the Department of Transport to deliver the project which had received public money,” said Lord Davies. We have had enormous support from our funders and are very confident we can raise the remaining funds required. But sadly the mayor of London has taken a different decision to those in place when the project started,” he said.

Despite Lord Davies’s terse statement, it now seems almost certain that the Garden Bridge will never see the light of day with close to £50m of public money spent on the project lost as a result. 

Commenting on the mayor's move, Liz Dunn, planning partner at UK law firm Burges Salmon, said: “With the removal of these guarantees,  we would expect there now to be a process of reflection to understand what lessons can be learned. As the government is placing more and more emphasis on infrastructure as a driver to UK growth the importance of public engagement and support for projects increases. We’ve run a recent survey with YouGov that says that the public does want to be involved in the engagement process but feels more could be done to make this happen.

“Whilst it’s naïve to expect all infrastructure projects to secure unanimous public support, we do know that public engagement can facilitate great public works. Where the public feels disengaged, projects can founder and even fail. We’re working with the infrastructure sector to canvass views and determine how to improve the delivery process and will release our findings in June."



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