Public money ‘at risk’ over Garden Bridge

Criticism over public funding for the Garden Bridge continues with a new report highlighting that more than £20M of taxpayer money may be wasted if the project fails to go ahead.

This latest report from the National Audit Office explores the Department for Transport’s (DfT’s) £30M contribution towards the development of the proposed pedestrian bridge over the Thames in central London.

It concludes that, following the DfT’s decision to increase on three occasions the amount of its grant that it was willing to commit prior to construction, the taxpayer now stands to lose a maximum of £22.5M should the bridge be cancelled.

This consists of £13.5M in costs used so far to complete pre-construction activity, and a further £9M of cancellation liabilities.

“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,” said chair of the Committee of Public Accounts Meg Hillier MP.

Money spent before construction has started is at greater risk than money spent once a project is certain to go ahead, the report points out. There remains a significant risk that the Garden Bridge, which has already faced cost increases and timetable delays, will not go ahead, it adds.

The Garden Bridge Trust has still not secured the land on the South Bank for the bridge's south landing and construction is now expected to begin in the spring of 2017 – approximately 18 months later than planned.

The report adds that, if the project continues, it is possible that the Government will be approached for extra funding should the Trust face a funding shortfall.

Responding to the report, Transport Minister Lord Ahmad said: “The Government remains supportive of the Garden Bridge project and Ministers took into account a wide range of factors before deciding whether or not to make funding available. 

“The taxpayer, however, must not be exposed to any further risks and it is now for the Trust to find private sector backers to invest in the delivery of this project.”

A spokesperson for the Garden Bridge Trust said: “It is right that there is scrutiny of the project because it involves public money and transparency is good for us at an uncertain time.

“The Garden Bridge Trust has made strong progress with its partners in discharging nearly all its planning conditions, completed detailed pre-construction work, and has nearly £70M of private money raised with more announcements in the pipeline.”

In total the Trust will need to raise £125M in private donations for the scheme.