London mayor Sadiq Khan blocks extra funds for garden bridge

Further doubt cast on future of proposed bridge after preparatory work halted over fears about public funding

The future of London’s proposed garden bridge has been called into further question after the city’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, halted preparatory work on the structure over fears this could involve more public money being spent.

Khan officially backs the plan for the 367-metre tree- and plant-filled bridge, but only on the condition that no more public funding is made available for its construction. So far, £60m of public money has been committed to the £175m structure.

Part of the initial work has involved London Underground strengthening the structure of Temple tube station by the Thames so the north end of the bridge could sit on top of it. Transport for London’s (TfL) finance and policy committee had been due on Friday to formally approve £3m in extra spending on this, but Khan has ordered a halt so the funding can be examined by the committee, according to the Architects’ Journal.

It comes just over a week after the National Audit Office announced it was investigating another element of the public funding for the bridge – the £30m of £60m given by the Department for Transport. Separately, the Charity Commission is looking into the spending of the Garden Bridge Trust, which is behind the project.

The trust was due to repay the £3m for the work at Temple tube, so it is possible the work will begin again. However, Khan’s decision both risks delaying completion of a project due to open in 2018, and illustrates how less sympathetic the new mayor is to the Thomas Heatherwick-designed bridge than his predecessor, Boris Johnson.

A spokesman for Khan said: “The previous mayor first approved plans for enabling work to prepare Temple tube station for the arrival of the garden bridge two years ago in the summer of 2014, but final authorisation was only provided in March this year, two months before the mayoral election.

“This enabling work has since been suspended and that will be reported to the finance and policy committee. Sadiq Khan has been clear that no new public funds should be committed to the garden bridge and he has pledged to make the project more open and transparent – standards that were not always met under the previous administration.”

The Garden Bridge Trust says the bridge from South Bank to Temple, featuring 270 trees and thousands of plants, will be a “tiara” for London, being both an iconic landmark and a vital pedestrian bridge.

But critics, which include councillors and the MP representing the south side of the bridge, and members of all the main parties on the Greater London authority (GLA), complain it is a vanity project with no practical use in a part of central London already well served by bridges and awash with visitors.

There are also worries over the money spent so far on the bridge, especially after Khan said more than half the £60m in public money had already gone, meaning it would cost more to cancel than to build.

Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the GLA’s Liberal Democrats, told the Architects’ Journal that Khan needed to go further to rein in the spending. “The fact that this work to Temple station has been suspended at the 11th hour suggests that for too long TfL have not been in full control of public money they have been allocating to the garden bridge,” she said.

The Garden Bridge Trust says it is confident the committee will find no issues with the spending, and that work will resume soon at Temple.

A spokeswoman for the trust said: “London Underground has completed initial work at Temple. Its work is now paused whilst the trust completes all required planning and land matters ahead of starting full construction.”

She added: “Once all planning and property matters have been resolved, the next phase of the London Underground work will commence. All works will be paid for by the trust. It is full steam ahead across the planning priorities and fundraising is also very active.”


Peter Walker and Will Hurst

The GuardianTramp

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