Johnson defends Garden Bridge project and takes swipe at successor for its failure

Boris Johnson (left) appearing before the GLA’s oversight committee to answer questions about the failed Garden Bridge project.

The former mayor of London Boris Johnson appeared at City Hall in defiant mood yesterday as he arrived to defend the controversial Garden Bridge project which will cost the public £46m, despite never being built.

The foreign secretary was summoned by the Greater London Authority to answer questions about the part he played in the failed scheme which aimed to construct a footbridge across the Thames linking Temple and South Bank. 

Despite initially being taken on by his successor Sadiq Khan, the plans were eventually scrapped in August last year when Khan said he would not provide guarantees for the planned bridge because it would leave taxpayers in the capital at risk of higher bills.

It followed a scathing report by Dame Margaret Hodge that recommended ditching the proposed Thames crossing because it was "difficult to justify further public investment" in the bridge. Some £60m of the £200m needed had been pledged through public funding, but only £69m of private funding had been promised, leaving a gap of £70m, according to the report.

Johnson arrived on Thursday to answer questions on the bridge for the first time after refusing to participate in the Hodge review.

The former London mayor was in typically bullish mood and was in good spirits despite the reason for him being hauled back into City Hall. He started the exchange with assembly members by telling the chamber how much of a “pleasure it was to be back” and went on to vivaciously defend the £46m project by saying it would have been a “fantastic thing for London” and its failure remained a “bitter disappointment”. 

He conceded he was at first sceptical when introduced to the idea by a range of people including Joanna Lumley in his City Hall office but soon “came around to the idea” when he believed it would address transport needs and provide Londoners with a park and something unique.

Speaking to the GLA’s oversight committee, Johnson said: “If I had gone on as mayor then I would have continued the project and it would never have been money down the drain. The decision to scrap it would not have been the decision I would have taken were I still doing the job I once did. I did see there to be a transport case for the bridge and there would have been a fantastic park too, it made sense and had a business case.”

Throughout the proceedings, the foreign secretary attempted to point blame at his successor Sadiq Khan for the Garden Bridge failure. Johnson said another £9m was spent under his watch and his lack of “political push” was the reason the bridge was never constructed.

“You have got to push, push, push to get things done in London,” he added. “But it never really got the political push it needed, it felt like he (Khan) did not want to deliver the project for whatever reason and a further £9m was spent by his indecision. In the end I think he decided it was not invented here, it’s not his baby - and it’s very sad. It’s a great shame because it could have been part of his legacy.”

The inquiry ended with Labour assembly member Tom Copley asking the former mayor why he signed a mayoral directive which “watered down” conditions the Garden Bridge Trust had to meet to receive more taxpayer cash for the project. The directive came at a time when the trust was alleged to be unable to provide evidence it could provide maintenance funds for the first five years.

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