After nearly six months in the making, Dame Margaret Hodge has published the report of her investigations into the Garden Bridge. Sadiq Khan had asked her to conduct the inquiry to investigate the value for money, costs, conduct and procedures of the project.
You can read the full report HERE. And you should, because what Hodge delivers is 37 pages of absolute evisceration of the Garden Bridge, though fair, cutting and critical.
Sadiq had originally called for the inquiry as early as October 2015, before he was mayor, when he said “the project needs to be shelved until we have a proper investigation into this mess”. However, after becoming mayor he changed his tune and began to offer support for the project against the advice of community, Assembly Members, local councillors, MPs, investigative journalists as well as experts in architecture, engineering, horticulture, environmentalism and more.
Over five months into his mayoralty he invited Dame Margaret Hodge to conduct the interrogation, for which she has received submissions from over 48 individuals as well as have face to face interviews with all the key players behind the development as well as those who have been key in fighting it or shedding light into it.
Well, nearly all those involved. One key protagonist was notable by his absence:
However, it’s suspected that Johnson won’t be able to avoid further questioning quite so easily because of the sheer force of the suggestions of improper conduct, bad process and dodgy behaviour eloquantly articulated by Hodge. To readers of this site and followers of the Garden Bridge debacle little of what is listed will be a surprise, but to have it all fairly investigated, summarised and presented in an official report offers what must surely be the moment the those that can decide to turn off the life support machine.
One of those people is the Mayor, Sadiq. He can’t “cancel” the Garden Bridge, per se, but he can simply refuse to sign the publicly funded guarantee which would underwrite an annual £3.1m bill for maintenance. This agreement is part of the planning permission following a Judicial Review from Thames Central Open Spaces, who have diligently opposed the development since 2014. Hodge, in no uncertain terms, advises Sadiq to stay well clear of the guarantee:
Which she then immediately follows with:
After reading this summary of the report, please do email Sadiq and call on him to follow Dame Margaret Hodge’s guidance and refuse to sign the guarantee as well as call for a full public inquiry and to get guidance on potential legal action on behalf of Londoners: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE BRIDGE’S PURPOSE
Hodge has fun exploring the idea that no two people behind the bridge shared an understanding of what it was even for, and this confusion of purpose has only multiplied over the years so that there is no singular idea of what they are even pursuing any more. This is summed up no better than in the totally inept response from Isabel Dedring when interviewed by Hodge:
A lot of the report is dedicated to the spiraling costs which were flagged up nearly a year ago on this site. Stating that even though the project has “already used up £37.4 million of public money” with the potential hit to the public purse being up to £46.4 million, she repeatedly advises it is better to accept this loss rather than continue and almost certainly incur massive demands to public funding should the project continue.
She covers the ever-increasing costs of the project in a single paragraph:
She goes on to outline that so many of the financial donors are anonymous, which “contributes to the fragility of the commitments” and discusses project costs rising at the same level as donations were coming in. Picking up on the Newsnight discovery that donors had begun to withdraw from the project to the tune of £20 million, Hodge estimates that the current gap in capital investment “is now likely to stand well in excess of £70 million”. The changing economic environment post-Brexit is also referred to in the report alongside a business plan which is “ambitious to say the least” which she concludes is “unlikely to be realised”.
As has been reported on this site, in the GLA report (PDF), in an independent Project Compass report and, particularly, in the ever-impressive investigatory journalism by Will Hurst at the Architects’ Journal, the TfL procurements for both the design by Heatherwick and the construction by Arup were evidently backwards engineered to deliver the predetermined outcome of Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge. Of these, Hodge states:
As Hodge was not in a position to receive evidence from Boris Johnson, who clearly sees public scrutiny beneath him, she had to understand his actions from reports, minutes and recorded evidence. She states that minutes of Garden Bridge meetings were rarely kept but is left “with the distinct sense that discussions and decisions taken [in unminuted meetings] influenced and ultimately biased the procurement process.
She does pick up on the trip to San Francisco which Johnson undertook with his Garden Bridge team, and Thomas Heatherwick, to seek private funding for the project before the procurement had even been announced:
Hodge then goes on to articulate all the many issues with the procurement which evidence its backwards-engineering and, in her words, show “that both procurements were not open, fair or competitive”. She flags up the advantages Heatherwick was given ahead of the other two invited firms, Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield and the bias in the scorings that Richard de Cani awarded each:
Tellingly, Marks Barfield made the following statement:
DEDRING & DE CANI
Isabel Dedring and Richard De Cani, high up TfL employees who were tasked with delivering the bridge for Johnson, do not come out well. Following awarding the Garden Bridge contract to Arup both then left TfL to join the company, though Hodge is more charitable than some who have considered the relationships when she trusts Arup’s assurances to her that that “there was no connection between Arup’s contract with TfL for the Garden Bridge and their recruitment by Arup”. However, both come out badly from the investigation.
Richard De Cani is even more implicated in the whole dodgy procurements, his name being attached to nearly every stage of bad practice, and improper process:
While there isn’t any allegation that designer Thomas Heatherwick has acted illegally at any point, Hodge emphasises that he cannot be unaware of the bias his practice had received through the process. Incredibly, in her interviews she also determined the huge fees that have already been paid to his studio – fees which are extraordinarily high in the industry, not least for a project which hasn’t even received implementable planning permission:
THE GARDEN BRIDGE TRUST
Hodge discusses the “blurring of interests” with those who are in the team attempting to deliver the project:
The strongest criticism for the Trust was when Hodge outlined her “shock” that they entered into a construction contract with so many oustanding unresolved issues.
She has no doubt that the reason they did this, at the huge risk to public expenditure and against all charitable management guidance, was to “get the project to the point of no return”:
Hodge also poured scorn on Joanna Lumley’s suggestion she was doing it for the greater good:
In fact, Hodge claims that the Garden Bridge Trust were the only people she spoke to or who offered evidence who wanted the bridge to happen at all, with the exception of the Evening Standard which has, in Kate Hoey MP’s words, acted as an unofficial mouthpiece of the Garden Bridge Trust:
HODGE’S ADVICE TO SADIQ
The report offers guidance to the Mayor in no uncertain terms:
In summing up, Hodge lays out the disaster of the Garden Bridge Trust’s finances and re-emphasises the likelihood of public funds bailing them out:
Please email Sadiq calling on him NOT TO SIGN THE GARDEN BRIDGE GUARANTEE, to open a full public inquiry and receive guidance on legal action on behalf of Londoners:
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