£20m down the drain if ‘flawed’ garden bridge scheme fails
by Sofia Lotto Persio
MORE than £20 million of public money is knowingly being risked by the Tories in the funding of London’s proposed garden bridge, the National Audit Office warned yesterday.
The spending watchdog’s probe into a multimillion-pound grant from the Department for Transport (DfT) to the Garden Bridge Trust found that concerned civil servants had sought a formal direction from ministers to commit more cash to the project due to its financial risk.
Their concerns were ignored by then prime minister David Cameron and chancellor George Osborne, fed-up with delays to the project.
The audit office found that up to £22.5m of taxpayers’ money could be lost if the project — which aims to span the Thames, linking Temple with the South Bank — should fall through.
A £75m funding gap between the project’s cost and the level of private investment means that this is a “significant risk.”
In 2013, Mr Osborne and former London mayor Boris Johnson agreed to provide the trust with £30m from the DfT and £30m from the mayoral office.
But the auditors found a “pattern of behaviour” in which the trust routinely requested extra handouts, with the DfT complying.
By June 2016, the trust had already spent £36m of public money on pre-planning and pre-construction activities.
“If the project continues, it is possible that the government will be approached for extra funding should the trust face a funding shortfall,” the auditors said.
The trust stated it won’t be seeking additional funding and said: “Of this £60m investment, £20m is being treated as a loan and around the same amount will be repaid to Treasury in VAT.
“This means the public investment will sit at around £20m, in line with the cost of the Millennium Bridge.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan last month ordered a review of the project funding after halting preparatory works.
Labour London Assembly Member Tom Copley said: “There was always a huge question mark hanging over the appropriateness of allocating funds to a project that provides no real transport benefits.
“Instead of listening to these concerns, the former mayor and his Westminster colleagues chose to plough ahead with this flawed project.”